Mike Reviews – WWF Survivor Series 1998: Deadly Game (Cause it’s a Deadly Game)

Happy Saturday Everyone!

I’ve been meaning to do this one for a while, being that in some ways it was one of most intricately booked shows of the entire Attitude Era and I enjoy that sort of thing.

The story here was that both Undertaker and Kane had pinned Stone Cold Steve Austin at the same time in a WWF Title match, leading to the belt getting made vacant and a big tournament needing to be held in order to crown a new Champ. Going into the show Mankind had been chosen as Vince McMahon’s hand-picked Corporate Champion, whilst Stone Cold and The Rock were the main babyface options to win the thing.

The event is emanating from St. Louis, MO on the 15th of November 1998

Calling the action are Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler

We get the big video package to open with all the guys in The Deadly Game (Cause it’s a Deadly Game) tournament talking about how they’ll do whatever it takes in order to win the belt.

We then of course get one of the best WWF pay per view theme songs ever to kick us off. They should find an excuse to bring this song back for something.

Opening Match
Round of 16 Match in the Deadly Game (Cause it’s a Deadly Game) Tournament for the WWF Title
WWF Hardcore Champ Mankind Vs Duane Gill

Mankind is Vince McMahon’s hand-picked contender in this, so Vince immediately gives him a soft draw by booking him against lifelong enhancement talent Duane Gill. What, was Barry Horrowitz booked at a bar mitzvah or something? Vince does do a big long-winded introduction for Gill at least in a funny bit, and Gill plays up to it well, doing the old Eric Young gimmick of being afraid of his own pyro. Mankind of course quickly wins, setting the tone that tonight it’s going to be about storytelling and soap opera over actual wrestling.

WINNER: MANKIND
RATING: SQUASH

It should be noted that Mankind is wrestling in a tuxedo here, complete with dress shoes, which must have just been an utter joy to wrestle in.

Earlier on Sunday Night HeAT, Sable gets beaten up by Jackie. She is defiant in a backstage promo with Kevin Kelly, showing some good fire in fairness to her.

Match Two
Round of 16 Match in the Deadly Game (Cause it’s a Deadly Game) Tournament for the WWF Title
Jeff Jarret w/ Debra Vs Al Snow w/ Head

Al had stolen Mr. Socko in the build-up to the show, which kind of gives away the result here seeing as the winner gets Mankind in the Quarter Finals. Jarrett and Snow had been feuding a bit as well, with Debra going after Head. I think this is the first chance I’ve had to review a Snow match since he saved that kid from drowning, so please allow me to dispense some kudos to him for his gallant rescue.

The Round of 16 matches only have 10 minutes, so the guys don’t have a lot of time to tell a story as a result. Despite that they have a fun match here for the most part, although it feels more like a match you’d see on Raw as opposed to a pay per view quality one. That’s not really their fault though. This is your standard Attitude Era crowd for the most part too, in that they don’t really care that much about the wrestling and just want to pop for the entrances. Snow eventually clocks Jarrett with Head whilst the ref is distracted by getting rid of Jarrett’s guitar and that’s enough for three.

WINNER: AL SNOW
RATING: *1/2

This was fine for the allotted time they were given and you’d be happy to get it on a Smackdown or something

Jarrett and Debra are disconsolate following that.

Match Three
Round of 16 Match in the Deadly Game (Cause it’s a Deadly Game) Tournament for the WWF Title
The Big Boss Man Vs Stone Cold Steve Austin

Boss Man was Vince’s enforcer at the time, so he’s mostly here to put a whupping on Austin rather than actually advance in the tournament itself. Austin wakes the crowd up a bit and they actually get into his match due to how big of a star he is. They were still trying to establish Boss Man as a genuine threat to the top guys at this stage before moving him into the Hardcore division in 1999, so he gets quite a bit of offence in here and Austin is forced to sell a lot.

I much prefer Boss Man as a babyface to be honest, but this match is okay for the most part due to Austin being so over and the work itself is executed well enough, if a bit basic. It’s mostly punching, kicking and rest holds, but the crowd likes it and Austin shows some good fire. Eventually Boss Man clobbers him with his nightstick for the DQ, which Vince seems happy with because all he really cared about was Austin getting battered.

WINNER BY DQ: STONE COLD
RATING: *1/2

Another match that was fine for how long it lasted but didn’t really have a chance to be any better

Boss Man batters Austin some more after the match, leaving him weakened for the next round when he faces either William Regal or X-Pac.

Vince McMahon tells Michael Cole that he isn’t worried about Austin advancing.

Match Four
Round of 16 Match in the Deadly Game (Cause it’s a Deadly Game) Tournament for the WWF Title
Real Man’s Man Steve Regal Vs WWF European Champ X-Pac

Regal’s gimmick at the time was that he was some kind of manual labourer/woodsman who could shave himself in the wild and make his own orange juice etc. It was another example of Vince Russo seemingly having very little respect for people who worked in menial jobs. Regal was having issues with demons at this time and it would eventually lead to him getting sacked from the WWF. His book is refreshingly honest about it too where he’s basically “Yup, I did a load of drugs and deserved to get sacked. I got clean and they eventually hired me back”

This is a bit of a styles clash, but it would have probably been a really fun match during Regal’s run as WCW TV Champ in the early to mid-90’s. Regal actually used to have quite a lot of decent matches with smaller high-flying dudes, with some of his matches with Psicosis and Rey Mysterio Jr in particular being worth going out of your way to find on the WWE Network.

Regal puts a bunch of holds on X-Pac, with X-Pac selling them well, but the match never really feels like it gets going and it’s the wrong sort of match for an Attitude Era crowd. I wouldn’t say it was bad or anything and I can appreciate the fact they work it like a believable looking fight, with holds getting cinched in and some nice hefty suplexes and throws. Eventually both men fight outside the ring though and that leads to them both getting eliminated.

DOUBLE COUNT OUT
RATING: *3/4

I appreciated elements of this match but the live crowd wasn’t especially into it

Vince tries to send WWF Commissioner Sgt Slaughter down to the ring in order to get the match restarted, but X-Pac seems too hurt to do that. This means that the match doesn’t start again for some reason. Wouldn’t it just have made more sense to have Regal advance via forfeit there? It’s not like Regal and Austin throwing hands at one another wouldn’t have been entertaining. Because the match couldn’t restart, that means that Austin gets a BYE to the semi-finals, leading to Vince freaking out.

Match Five
Round of 16 Match in the Deadly Game (Cause it’s a Deadly Game) Tournament for the WWF Title
WWF Intercontinental Champ Ken Shamrock Vs Goldust

Shamrock had turned Heel by this stage whilst I think Goldust was supposed to be a babyface, but I’m pretty sure he would go Heel again in 1999 on route to getting sacked when he requested Vince pay for breast implants for him. To be honest, silly as that sounds I can totally see it fitting in with the other wacky stuff the WWF was doing during this period.

Can we just take a moment to muse over just how screwed Greg Valentine would be in a 10 minute match. He’d already be eliminated before he even had a chance to get warmed up! This is kind of just two men just having a match, with the crowd not really that invested in the action. It’s not a bad match, but there’s nothing especially exciting about it and the morgue like atmosphere from the crowd doesn’t really help.

Shamrock controls things for the most part, with Goldust selling his offence well before making a bit of a comeback. The crowd does get a little bit into Goldust’s comeback and boo when the ref stops him from kicking Shamrock right in the octagon. This allows Shamrock to snap off a rana and a suplex before locking in an ankle lock for the clean win.

WINNER: KEN SHAMROCK
RATING: *1/2

Another Raw match in a series of them, but we got a clean finish at least so I’m happy on that front

Michael Cole is backstage and tells us that Austin is refusing medical assistance.

Match Six
Round of 16 Match in the Deadly Game (Cause it’s a Deadly Game) Tournament for the WWF Title
Triple H Vs The Rock

Rock gets a great reception coming out. However, Triple H has a bum knee and can’t wrestle, leading to Boss Man coming in as the replacement. Rock is waiting for him though and quickly rolls him up to win, popping the crowd in the process.

WINNER: THE ROCK
RATING: N/A

This was more an angle than an actual match, but it achieved what it needed to

We’re about an hour into the show now and the way they have crafted the storyline of the tournament has been done really well thus far. Yeah, the wrestling hasn’t been especially good, but the way they are tying all of the story threads together has been expertly done and we’re left with some genuine intrigue going into the Quarter Final round, with about five wrestlers who could all conceivably win the tournament, whilst Shamrock and Snow are over enough mid-carders that they don’t feel out of place this late into proceedings.

Match Seven
Quarter Final Match in the Deadly Game (Cause it’s a Deadly Game) Tournament for the WWF Title
The Undertaker w/ Paul Bearer Vs Kane

Undertaker and Kane had formed an alliance in the summer, but that has now fizzled away and they’re back to hating one another again, with Paul Bearer hitching his wagon back to Undertaker after managing Kane for most of the year. This ostensibly makes Kane a babyface, but they would make him an unwilling member of Vince’s Corporation for the opening months of 1999 until it was time to finally push Kane as a proper babyface for a bit.

Ross points out on commentary that this was the very venue that Kane made his debut in 1997. He cost Undertaker a shot at the WWF Title on that show by interfering in the Hell in a Cell match, so it’s some nice symmetry that he can do so again on this event. This is the usual Undertaker Vs Kane match, as they both lumber around throwing punches at one another for the most part. Thankfully they work it at a slightly quicker clip than usual due to these matches only having 15 minute time limits, so it’s not as slow and boring as matches between them would usually be.

The winner of this one gets a match with the winner of Shamrock/Rock in the semi’s, as both Taker and Kane were given a BYE straight to the Quarter Final round because Vince wanted them to destroy one another as revenge for bashing in his ankle and leaving him in a wheelchair, which he’s still in on this show. Kane gets the better of the slug fest in the early going, but then Undertaker targets his leg and works that over for a bit.

Kane does a decent job selling the leg actually, especially as his gimmick at this stage was still that he was kind of a semi-invincible monster, but he gets the right mixture of selling the body part whilst still remaining authentic to his character, which isn’t something everyone could do. Kane eventually starts Big Red Monstering up, no selling some Undertaker punches and then making a comeback. The crowd doesn’t really get into it that much though.

I’ve kind of liked this match actually, as some brief slow periods aside it’s mostly had some good energy to it and the wrestling has been fine. The finish is a bit lame; as Kane seemingly has it won but then gets distracted by Bearer, leading to Undertaker getting the win with a Tombstone, even though it took three of them for Taker to win earlier in the year. They had Bearer hold down Kane’s leg during the pin at least.

WINNER: UNDERTAKER
RATING: **

I was alright with that but I can see why others might not like it as much

Kane attacks the ref after the match to get his heat back.

Match Eight
Quarter Final Match in the Deadly Game (Cause it’s a Deadly Game) Tournament for the WWF Title
Mankind Vs Al Snow w/ Head

Mankind and Snow are of course real life frenemies, so getting to see them working a match on a major pay per view like this is a nice little “wink-wink” moment for those that know their personal relationship outside of the ring. They have a pretty fun brawl here for the most part, with Mankind giving Snow quite a bit of offence. We see that Vince and his stooges are watching backstage, where it’s revealed that it was Vince who stole Mr. Socko and not Snow.

Mankind of course gets Socko back during the course of the match, and even starts beating up Head at one stage. You can tell that both guys are having fun with all the wacky character stuff, and Mankind eventually wins it with The Socko Claw.

WINNER: MANKIND
RATING: **

This was fun but it would have been nice to see them get more time to have more of a match

So we’ll now get Mankind Vs Stone Cold in the Semi-Finals

Match Nine
Quarter Final Match in the Deadly Game (Cause it’s a Deadly Game) Tournament for the WWF Title
Ken Shamrock Vs The Rock

Shamrock and Rock had many matches together in 1998, with Rock usually getting the better of Shamrock outside of Shamrock’s win in the 1998 King of the Ring Final. Ironically despite Shamrock technically winning the feud with that KOTR victory it was Rock who gained far more from it and used the momentum to become a bigger star. Rock was nice enough to send a video in for Shamrock when Shamrock joined the Impact Wrestling Hall of Fame though.

This is a decent match, if a bit dull, which was usually the case when these two met in my opinion. I don’t know why but these two just never really “clicked” as opponents for me and I didn’t really enjoy their matches that much, although I could appreciate that the work was usually solid. I just think they had good chemistry together as characters and rivals but it didn’t ever really translate into really good matches in the ring.

Big Boss Man eventually joins us as we make our way into the closing section and distracts the referee before throwing in his nightstick, with the goal ostensibly being for Shamrock to catch it and use it. However, Rock catches it out of the air and then clobbers Shamrock with it instead in a super smooth counter that made him look like the coolest man on Earth, and that not surprisingly is enough for the win for a big pop from the crowd.

WINNER: THE ROCK
RATING: **1/2

Standard Shamrock/Rock match for me there, with it being an okay match that I didn’t really get that into. The crowd enjoyed the closing stages though and it had probably the best overall heat for a match that we’ve had all night thus far

Boss Man as the bungling oaf who keeps screwing things up tonight is pretty funny but also probably a good example of why they quickly moved him down to the mid-card from 99 onwards outside of an ill-fated WWF Title match with The Big Show.

Michael Cole is backstage with Paul Bearer, who says Undertaker is walking out as WWF Champ tonight, as the only Rock he likes is the cold granite he chisels names onto. That was a pretty bad ass line I must say.

Match Ten
WWF Women’s Title
Jackie w/ Marc Mero Vs Sable

Shane McMahon is a referee here due to Vince punishing him for signing Stone Cold to a new contract after Vince had tried firing him. This was a long running feud that started up in the summer when Sable and Mero had split up on screen, leading to Mero bringing in Jackie as his new valet. Jackie had actually cut off some of Sable’s hair as part of the hype for this climatic bout, and she has some of it in her hair for good measure.

Sable destroys Jackie to start and then heads outside to give Mero a powerbomb for good measure. Mero was so selfless in trying to get his wife over and it ended up doing him very little good in the long run. Jackie uses Sable’s attack on Mero as a chance to cut her off and work some heat, which leads to Sable doing some selling, which she wasn’t that good at.

Sable was actually a rather entertaining babyface when she was fired up and her offence actually landed, but after a certain point she lost that fire and her work became pretty miserable as a result. She eventually shrugs off Jackie’s offence after a certain point and powerbombs her for the three and a massive pop from the crowd.

WINNER AND NEW CHAMPION: SABLE
RATING: *

Putting the belt on Sable was the right call as she was super over as a babyface, as the reaction of the crowd here showed. The problems came when they didn’t bring in enough fresh opponents for her to wrestle who could actually work, and when that was combined with her work ethic slipping due to getting a big ego it spelled the end for her as an effective character on the show

Sable does a good job selling how important the win is, acting like winning the belt is a big deal that she actually cares about.

Match Eleven
Semi-Final Match in the Deadly Game (Cause it’s a Deadly Game) Tournament for the WWF Title
Mankind Vs Stone Cold Steve Austin

This is probably the best match on the entire show as these two had really good chemistry together by this point and could probably have a fun brawl together in their sleep. Austin starts tearing off Mankind’s tuxedo as the match progresses, leaving him in just the white shirt and slacks. Mankind does a great spot in the shine where he flees the ring and sprints down the aisle to buy himself some time, leading to him having to be coaxed back by Pat Patterson, Gerald Brisco and Sgt Slaughter, who have come out to watch the match along with Vince.

Austin of course doesn’t pass up a chance to clobber the stooges, but that allows Mankind to cut him off and work some heat back inside the ring. Austin sells that well and the crowd remains with the match due to the star power within it. It should be pointed out that Vince is fantastic at ringside when it comes to his reactions and facial expressions, mixing in anger, desperation and disgust perfectly as he cheers Mankind on.

They are really on their game in this one, with some nice counter sequences mixed in between the brawling, as they keep the crowd on their toes with some miss-direction and near falls. Of course the big reveal is that Vince is now fully recovered from his Undertaker and Kane attack, as he climbs into the ring to stop the count when Austin has it won. Austin still manages to get another Stunner on Mankind, which leads to Shane McMahon running down and refusing to count, going Heel in the process.

At this point the finish of the match is supposed to be Boss Man running down to destroy Austin so that Mankind can pick up the pin. However, Boss Man was backstage having a chat with Undertaker about something and legitimately missed his cue, meaning that they have to improvise a finish where Brisco hits Austin with a weak chair shot for the three count.

WINNER: MANKIND
RATING: ***1/4

I love how Boss Man has been an ineffective goober all night and the ONE time he was actually going to be useful he missed his cue for real and they had to ad-lib a different ending. You couldn’t make that up. The match itself was a lot of fun, as they had a fun brawl followed by some genuinely excellent soap opera nonsense at the end with all the twists and turns

Vince and the stooges flee following that, with Vince going the extra mile and kicking his heels together in joy as they run away. He was always so great at the little touches like that. Austin gives chase and that leads to Vince and Shane seemingly leaving the building in a limo. Yup, I’m sure we won’t see them again tonight. No siree, they’re long gone by now…

Jim Ross of course does the fantastic indignant rant following all of that, infuriated that Austin has been cheated out of the tournament.

Match Twelve
Semi-Final Match in the Deadly Game (Cause it’s a Deadly Game) Tournament for the WWF Title
The Undertaker w/ Paul Bearer Vs The Rock

This one isn’t as good as the previous match, and it doesn’t quite have the same level of heat either, but it’s okay, if a little bit slow paced and limited from an offence perspective. It’s mostly just both men punching, kicking and choking one another, with the occasional moment where they fight outside of the ring. Undertaker takes the majority of it and, with Rock selling well whilst Taker works him over.

Big Boss Man comes down to the ring as the match progresses, with it looking like he’s there to cost Rock the match. Rock starts making a comeback and sets up for the People’s Elbow, only for Boss Man to trip him so that Taker can avoid the move. Undertaker looks to have it won when he goozles Rock, but Kane joins us and Choke Slams Rock instead, causing Taker to be DQ’ed.

WINNER BY DQ: THE ROCK
RATING: *1/2

Bit plodding in places, but I did think the finish was clever and subverted the usual expectation you would have from a run-in like that

Undertaker and Kane fight through the crowd whilst a victorious Rock makes his way to the back.

Michael Cole is backstage with Mankind. Mankind says he will climb the final rock in front of him, if you smell what the sock is cookin’.

Match Thirteen
WWF Tag Titles
Champs: The New Age Outlaws (Road Dogg and Billy Gunn) Vs The Head Bangers (Mosh and Thrasher) Vs D’Lo Brown and Mark Henry

There is a gigantic sign in the crowd with The Outlaws’ entire catchphrase on it which is some super impressive dedication when it comes to sign making. The Head Bangers had done a non-finish at the previous pay per view with The Outlaws to set them up as challengers here, but I’m not sure how Brown and Henry worked their way into the feud.

This is an unenviable slot on the card for these six guys I must say, as this crowd has been given a lot to digest on this show and this match is essentially the Semi-Main. This match gets a lot of trash spoken about it, and it is pretty messy, but I wouldn’t say that it was terrible or anything. The two Heel teams mostly just work over Road Dogg, with them occasionally breaking off from that to fight one another.

It’s not an especially good match, but there’s usually something going on at all times and Road Dogg sells well, so it holds your attention at least. Some of the wrestling doesn’t quite land at points, with the odd bit of sloppiness, but it’s okay for the most part. Tim White has a bit of a shocker as ref, to the point that Ross has to actively call him out on it. Things do fall apart a bit in the closing stages, with everyone getting a bit lost until Gunn pins Mosh with a piledriver.

WINNERS AND STILL CHAMPIONS: THE NEW AGE OUTLAWS
RATING: *1/2

Was alright at points, sloppy in others and the finish kind of went off the rails

We get a recap of how Austin got cheated earlier.

Main Event
Final of the Deadly Game (Cause it’s a Deadly Game) Tournament for the WWF Title
Mankind Vs The Rock

Oh, and wouldn’t you know it, we cut to the back during Rock’s entrance to see that Vince and Shane are still in the building. HOW UNFORSEEN!!! So yeah, the odds are stacked even more in Mankind’s favour now that The McMahon’s haven’t left. Rock and Mankind would go on to have some decent matches, and this is kind of one of them, although it’s by no means their best due to them needing to call most of it on the fly. It always tended to work better when Rock was the heel, as it allowed Mankind to sell and bump to gain sympathy from the crowd. Rock hadn’t quite gotten his babyface match down yet and wouldn’t until 2000 really.

The McMahons do eventually join us, with Jim Ross being pretty funny on commentary with some of his barbs towards them. Rock bumps Mankind around a bit outside the ring, but then goes to a chin lock back inside. The work here has been okay but they just haven’t managed to get a good flow going and the match has been stop-start as a result. Again, it’s understandable, but it’s not the Final you’d hope it would be. That being said, Savage Vs Dibiase at Mania IV was a disappointment too, so it’s not like this hasn’t happened in a WWF tournament before.

Rock does finally manage to wake the crowd up by clocking Mankind with a chair outside the ring, which surprisingly doesn’t lead to a DQ, and that gets him a two back inside. Of course, it would be explained soon why it wasn’t a DQ in a roundabout sort of way. I love the foreshadowing here, it really is some great storytelling as so many of the connecting pieces become clearer when you look back afterwards in an attempt to reconstruct the murder. This has picked up a bit since it became more of a brawl, with Mankind clobbering Rock on the American commentary table, which gets him a two back inside.

We head into the closing stretch, with Mankind taking a bump through the Spanish table from the second rope when Rock dodges an elbow drop in a pretty darn impressive looking bump that did not look fun due to his legs connecting with the front of the table as it collapsed. We get some near falls following that back inside, which eventually leads to Mankind applying the Socko Claw to seemingly put Rock out, only for Rock to hang on and then take him down with a Rock Bottom. We then get our biggest SWERVE in a series of them, as Rock shoots Vince the People’s Eyebrow and Vince returns it, leading to a Sharpshooter from Rock. We get a recreation of the screw job from the previous year, with Vince calling for the bell and Rock becoming the new Corporate Champion.

WINNER OF THE DEADLY GAME TOURNAMENT (CAUSE IT’S A DEADLY GAME) AND NEW WWF CHAMPION: THE ROCK
RATING: **1/2

The match got cooking eventually, but it took a while. The crowd reaction was fantastic as they popped big at first but then it dawned on them what had happened, with it getting pushed over the edge when they saw Rock hug The McMahon’s to cement the new alliance

Mankind gets beaten up again post-match, both by Rock and a returning Austin, but his time would come soon enough. This was a super angle and a great way to lay the table for WrestleMania. Of course Mania XV ended up being a bit of a disaster and one of the worst Mania’s ever, but they had a strong base to build from at least thanks to this.

In Conclusion

I can fully understand how this show would divide people. If you watch wrestling primarily for the actual wrestling and enjoy good matches, then you’ll probably hate this show because good wrestling is at a premium due to them essentially sacrificing all but 2-3 matches on the card in the name of advancing the story of the show itself.

If you watch wrestling primarily for the soap opera and storyline elements then you will probably love this show because they absolutely nail that aspect here, with a great story being told throughout the night that pays off in the end. The twists and turns all make sense in the grand scheme of things and it’s a testament to how hot the WWF was at the time that they could tease the fans with a Rock babyface run and snatch it away, only to then do even better business as a result.

The booking on this show is the kind of booking that only a hot company with plenty of goodwill from the fan base could get away with, and to the WWF’s credit this was probably the best version of this kind of show you could possibly do.

This isn’t the sort of show I’d want to watch every time, but as a one-off event designed to set up the main WrestleMania stories it was pretty much perfect and remains one of the best “story” shows the WWF has ever done in my opinion.

Recommended Show (Depending on what kind of wrestling you like)