Professional wrestling works when it follows the storytelling formula. Good guy wants something. Bad guy gets in the way. Good guy overcomes the odds and gets what he wants, bad guy gets his comeuppance.
So who do we cheer and boo at this year’s Survivor Series? The storyline setup coming into this pay-per-view felt weak, if not forced, centered on the warring factions of Monday Night Raw versus Smackdown. This might have worked if fans felt an allegiance to the brands, but we’re only four months into the split and the WWE braintrust would rather us watch both shows with equal loyalty.
What we ended up having at this, the 30th edition of Survivor Series, are teams where babyfaces and heels coexist, competing on matches where fans don’t have much emotional investment.
And you know what? It doesn’t matter. Survivor Series is rarely an end point for storylines, it’s the pivot that begins the acceleration into Wrestlemania season. The Shield made its debut four years ago in the closing moments of the main event. Sting gave Triple H the scorpion death drop two years ago. Sheamus cashed in his Money in the Bank briefcase last year. Wins and losses on this show are of little consequence, so we’re left to cheer for calorically empty thrills—ring entrances, hot tags, and high spots. It didn’t matter who won the main event between Goldberg and Brock Lesnar, it’s about the shock of having the match end decisively after 90 seconds.
The Toronto crowd at Air Canada Centre, so vociferous at NXT TakeOver the night before, once again show why they’re the ideal crowd for a show like Survivor Series. They don’t adhere to who the WWE assigns as good and bad guys; they cheer for whomever they deem deserving of cheer.
Did it matter that the Team Raw women won the opening bout? Not particularly. The match served to get Natalya the Canadian pop, and for Nia Jax to be showcased in the Awesome Kong monster role. What mattered, was after Bayley pinned Becky Lynch with the Bayley-to-belly, that Bayley got laid out by teammate Charlotte to set up their championship feud.
It didn’t matter that the tag team elimination match was a 20-man car wreck with no story or strategy. It was wall-to-wall signature moves, one awesome spot after another, ending with a super finishing sequence and Jey Uso tapping out to Cesaro’s sharpshooter.
It didn’t matter Bray Wyatt pinned Roman Reigns to put Team Smackdown over Team Raw in a 52-minute semi-main event. Bragging rights have no currency in this case. It mattered that we saw potential future singles dream matchups, like A.J. Styles versus Kevin Owens. It mattered we saw Shane McMahon do his daredevil death spot from the top turnbuckle crashing into the announcer’s table. It mattered we had a tantalizing one-night-only Shield reunion. It mattered that the most intriguing storyline possibilities is on the Smackdown side, namely, how The Undertaker will be utilized these next six months (Wrestling Observer’s Bryan Alvarez floated the idea of The Undertaker versus A.J. Styles for the championship at the Royal Rumble, then The Undertaker versus John Cena at Wrestlemania in a career versus title main event. See bullet points below for my fantasy booking).
The two undercard singles matches had good action until their lame interference finishes. The Miz and Maryse make a fiendish pairing, but having Maryse ring the bell to cause confusion shows more the ineptitude of the referee and ring crew than the cunningness of the heel couple. And was the cruiserweight championship match a vehicle to continue the heatless Baron Corbin-Kalisto feud? (That match featured two fantastic spots: Kalisto’s Spanish fly from the ring apron to the outside, and Brian Kendrick’s headlock from the top turnbuckle into his Captain’s hook submission.)
Again, wins and losses aren’t important. It’s more the nature of the wins.
Bill Goldberg stunned armchair bookers everywhere by beating Brock Lesnar in 90 seconds with two spears and a jackhammer. (Remember how Goldberg used to win squash matches in a minute?) No one saw this coming, and boy, was this a brilliant decision by the WWE creative team. If Lesnar had to lose, better it be a shock defeat from left field than a protracted ass-kicking, like what Lesnar did to John Cena at SummerSlam 2014. This finish obviously calls for a rematch, likely at the Royal Rumble at San Antonio’s Alamodome. And wouldn’t you believe it, just like that, Wrestlemania season is underway again.
Random bullet points
- Match of the night goes to the 10-on-10 tag team elimination match. (4 1/4 stars)
- Mauro Ranallo and Corey Graves are the best announcing duo in professional wrestling, full stop.
- Alexa Bliss is turning into quite the crowd-favorite heel.
- Seeing how over the “10” chants were all weekend, and how Tye Dillinger got his curtain call at TakeOver, how about we see him debut on Monday Night Raw? In Toronto?
- I would pay good money for Randy Orton and Seth Rollins to come up with a dozen more creative RKO spots.
- Fantasy booking: On Smackdown side, John Cena beats A.J. Styles at the Royal Rumble for his 16th championship. Cena faces Undertaker at Wrestlemania in career versus title match. A.J. Styles faces Shinsuke Nakamura at Mania. On Raw side, Roman Reigns versus Kevin Owens for the Universal championship at the Royal Rumble, with Owens retaining. Finn Balor wins Rumble to earn a championship match against Owens at Mania.