Friday, November 9, 2018

The History of WWE Survivor Series, part 6 (2002-2004)

This installment, if anything, proves that I should likely see a therapist about my wrestling-related issues.  But I'm not wrong.  Read with caution.....

Survivor Series 2002 - Madison Square Garden - 11/17/02

Sweet mother of God this show pissed me off.  Really, on so many levels this show made me want to smash lots of things with a steel girder.  Besides the obvious surface-level stupidity of this not at all being a proper Survivor Series lineup (Not one traditional SS match?  Really?), the booking was so incredibly nonsensical it actually hurt my face.  Some of the matches were fine, but the backstage political games that plagued WWE at the time undermined almost everything good that happened.  So strap on your hip boots, cuz we's about to wade through some shit.

The opening match was a six-man elimination Tables Match. Ooooh, so close to being an actual Survivor Series match, but nope.  During the brand split in early 2002, the company decided to split up not one, but two of their top tag teams, The Hardy Boyz and The Dudley Boyz, essentially gutting the entire division.  Oh, and they made the Tag belts exclusive to RAW so almost no teams even existed to fight over them.  Makes sense.  Anyway, this match saw Bubba Dudley, Spike Dudley and Jeff Hardy face Three Minute Warning and Rico.  It was fine for what it was, but I gave less than a poop.  There's one moment during the match where Jeff Hardy is brawling outside the ring and the participants have clearly been told to pick up the pace and get to the finish.  Rico gets up on the second rope and quite audibly yells, "Jeff! Get in here!"  Well done sir.

Second was a Cruiserweight Title match between Billy Kidman and Jamie Noble.  This was fine.  Seven minutes was enough for them to make an impression at least.

The Women's Title match was next as Trish Stratus defended against her crazed, smitten rival Victoria (another Trish feud played out in similar fashion a few years later with Mickie James).  Victoria was great as this psychotic character who seemed to harbor romantic feelings for Trish.  She also had Tatu's "All the Things She Said" as her entrance theme, which was fucking fantastic - probably the best entrance theme in the company at the time.  This match was pretty good and elevated Victoria as an excellent heel champ.

Okay, here's where things get stupid, folks.  The WWE Title match saw the company's newest main event star Brock Lesnar, fresh off cleanly defeating Rob Van Dam, The Rock and The Undertaker in PPV bouts (plus Hogan and Flair on free TV), defend against The Big Show, fresh off defeating almost no one on RAW for months.  Big Show had been floundering for the better part of two years and lost basically every feud he was involved in, only to be traded to Smackdown and immediately given a #1 Contender's spot.  Umm, what?  To make matters worse, the storyline was that Lesnar's manager Paul Heyman legitimately feared for Lesnar's well-being after Big Show attacked him, and was convinced Lesnar couldn't win the match.  Keep in mind Brock Lesnar was undefeated at this point while The Big Show just came off a horribly unsuccessful midcard run on RAW.  Got that?  So Lesnar's manager Paul Heyman didn't think the undefeated WWE Champion could beat his newest challenger who had just spent months losing most of his matches.  Did WWE think their viewers didn't watch both shows?  Also of note: Big Show's most recent PPV match prior to this was at May's Judgment Day, where he and Ric Flair lost a handicap match to Steve Austin.  Yeah there's a credible challenger.

Why is Big Bully Busick beating up Brock Lesnar?

Anyway, the match was a four-minute brawl where the big story was that Lesnar's ribs were injured (to be fair Lesnar was legit injured so he couldn't work a full match).  Lesnar dominated much the match, lifted Big Show up for an F5 (incredible), and went for the pin, only for Heyman to turn on Lesnar and help The Big Show win the Title.  So let me make sure I'm clear on this.  We're supposed to believe that Paul Heyman was so convinced his guy couldn't beat this perennial midcarder that he "opportunistically" turned on Lesnar, despite Lesnar never having lost a match, and despite Lesnar having THIS match won.  Sorry, did anyone at WWE Creative bother to proofread this garbage before they greenlit it?  This is some of the worst storytelling I've ever been privy to.  None of this made sense, and it wasted the potentially HUGE moment of Brock Lesnar's first pinfall loss by giving it to someone who wouldn't benefit from it (oddly similar to WCW booking Kevin Nash to beat Goldberg).  Oh, and the match wasn't good.

The one really great match on this show was the WWE Tag Team Title match (the company realized that RAW had basically no tag teams left to challenge the champions Chuck & Billy, so rather than the logical option of having the champs wrestle on both shows they created a Smackdown-only set of Tag belts) - a Triple Threat Elimination bout between Champions Rey Mysterio & Edge, Kurt Angle & Chris Benoit, and Los Guerreros.  This three-way feud for the straps resulted in some spectacular television in the fall of 2002, or as it's known by most, The Smackdown Six Era.  The only problem was that the belts changed hands every couple weeks.  Angle and Benoit were the first champions, but two weeks later they lost the belts to Edge & Mysterio, who lost them here to Eddie & Chavo.  But this was a helluva good match (with a slightly anticlimactic third act after Angle & Benoit were ousted), and really the only bright spot on the show.

Yes, I mean that wholeheartedly.  The Tag Title match was far and away the best thing on this card, including the inaugural Elimination Chamber.

RAW GM Eric Bischoff introduced the Chamber as a cross between a Survivor Series match, a Royal Rumble, and WarGames.  Six men would compete for the World Title in a giant domed steel structure.  Two would start the match while the other four waited in individual pods, and then at regular intervals another man would enter the fray.  The object was to eliminate all your opponents by pin or submission.  The six participants were Champion Triple H (literally handed the resurrected World Title after Brock took the Undisputed Title to Smackdown), Chris Jericho, Rob Van Dam, Booker T, Kane, and the returning Shawn Michaels.  Shawn had just made a miraculous comeback at SummerSlam but was out three months with a Triple H-inflicted kayfabe injury, and now wanted revenge.  This entire match was basically an elaborate one-on-one bout between Hunter and Shawn.  The other four guys were treated as afterthoughts, particularly once the bell rang.

The first-ever Elimination Chamber!  Featuring Triple H, Shawn Michaels.....
oh, and four other guys.

Rob Van Dam and Triple H started the match and wrestled fairly awkwardly for the first period.  This being a new match type, no one really seemed sure how to properly utilize the Chamber.  RVD did have one highspot where he frog splashed Hunter off one of the pods, but Hunter positioned himself too close and RVD came down knees-first on Hunter's throat.  To H's credit he finished the entire 39-minute match with an injured larynx.  Jericho was the third entrant, Booker T fourth.  Rob Van Dam was gone before Kane entered at the fifteen-minute mark, and Booker was gone a few minutes later.  So the two potential new main event babyfaces were eliminated in the first half of the match.  Super.  Shawn came in last, and after Kane and Jericho were gone it was down to the two former DX buddies.  After a fairly dull 39 minutes, part-timer Shawn Michaels became the new World Champion. 

Now look, I'm an enormous Shawn Michaels fan.  Shawn is my favorite wrestler of all time, alright?  And I still say putting the belt on Shawn Michaels at this point in time was utterly ridiculous.  He was a just-returning star working a very limited schedule because at that point he didn't know if he could still wrestle regularly.  So rather than create a new and much-needed top RAW babyface in the massively over Rob Van Dam or Booker T, they decided to give Shawn an honorary run with the Title, only for him to drop it back to Hunter the following month.  Just absolutely infuriating.  Remember this was when RAW was The Triple H Show and he did everything he could to never put over anyone who might threaten his position in the company.  Over the course of a year he lost the belt to his best friend, won it back four weeks later, and feuded with two joke contenders in Scott Steiner (who made his debut at this show with an in-ring promo that made him sound drunk off his ass) and Kevin Nash (who even as a babyface was booed throughout his feud with Hunter).

I know most people consider this first Chamber match a classic, but I really don't see it.  I found the match overly long, fairly boring, lacking any urgency or brutality, and wholly counterproductive in building a queue of credible babyfaces for Triple H to fight.  Fortunately the Chamber match would become one of the most fun annual bouts, but with this first one it was clear they didn't know yet what they were doing.

Survivor Series '02 was yet another edition that had no business being called Survivor Series.  Not one traditional elimination match took place, and the company seemed hell-bent against  pushing anyone new.  Given how balls-out amazing the Smackdown TV show was almost every week during this time (thanks largely to Paul Heyman's booking) it was incredibly frustrating to watch them fumble around with an awkward, unsatisfying PPV like this one.

Best Match: Edge/Mysterio vs. Angle/Benoit vs. Los Guerreros
Worst Match: Brock Lesnar vs. Big Show
What I'd Change: To simplify things let's leave actual Series-style matches off the table.  First, I'd give RVD the fucking belt in the Chamber match.  Hunter and Shawn could've continued their blood feud for a few months, but RVD should've won and feuded with Jericho for a while.  If Lesnar had to drop the WWE Title here, have Benoit be the guy to do it (as I recall Heyman pushed for Benoit to challenge Lesnar in the early fall but the company went with Taker instead).  Big Show gained absolutely nothing from being the first guy to pin Lesnar - just look at his 2003 resume.  Jobbed out to Lesnar twice, he and a different partner (A-Train) were on the losing end of another handicap match at 'Mania, and by the end of the year he was moved down to the US Title division.  An undefeated streak is a pretty special thing, and if you're going to create one and then end it, you should have some gameplan for who gets to be the one (kinda like when Lesnar broke Taker's streak in 2014).
Most Disappointing Match: Elimination Chamber - I'll say it again; I really didn't like this match very much.  It's honestly one of the weakest editions.
Most Pleasant Surprise: I got nothin'.
Overall Rating: 5/10
Better than WrestleMania X8 and/or SummerSlam '02? - Get the 'F' outta here.  See what I did there?   

Survivor Series 2003 - American Airlines Center - 11/16/03

Speaking of shows that piss me off, take a look at this rather homely little number.  Survivor Series 2003 was quite a mixed bag of random nuts that could've been pretty awesome if reimagined by persons of sound mind.  Like most of what happened in 2003 WWE, the good stuff was really fantastic, but you had to wade through some of the most ill-conceived and/or half-assed drivel to get to it.

Let's start with the main event, as WWE decided to.  Yes, the opening match of this show was the traditional elimination bout involving the WWE Champion (which at the time was still the top belt in the company, in spite of what Triple H wanted everyone to think).  Brock Lesnar led a team of The Big Show, A-Train, Matt Morgan, and Nathan Jones (seriously, he was still employed even after having been removed from the WrestleMania card for being so bad in the ring) against Kurt Angle, Chris Benoit, Bob Holly, Bradshaw, and an up-and-coming breakout star by the name of John Cena.  This was far and away the match I was most looking forward to, and it not only opened the show, but was given a paltry 13 minutes.  I'd like to repeat that: a ten-man elimination match involving the WWE Champion (and US Champ for that matter) opened the show, and was only given thirteen minutes.  To kick things off, Bob Holly (who had just returned after sustaining a real-life neck injury in a 2002 match against Lesnar) shoved the referee and was disqualified before the match even started.  So already they failed to deliver the advertised match, as it was now a handicap elimination bout.  Sorry, but that's basically a bait-and-switch.  Next, both A-Train and Bradshaw were eliminated within the first minute.  Isn't that special.  After twelve more minutes of rushed action unbecoming of what should've been the main event of the show, Chris Benoit made Lesnar tap and John Cena pinned Big Show to win the match, setting up challengers for both Smackdown singles belts.  Aside from a few good minutes, this more or less sucked.

Probably the most disappointing elimination match ever.

Next, Molly Holly defeated Lita to retain the Women's Title.  This was fine for what it was.

The third slot was originally supposed to go to the Cruiserweight Title match between Tajiri and Jamie Noble, but instead they booked a completely purposeless altercation between Eric Bischoff and Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, bumping the aforementioned match to the preshow.  They exchanged heated, poorly delivered insults and eventually Cuban got RKOd by Randy Orton.  I am almost without words.  They actually cut a Title match from a show people paid real money to see, to make room for a staged argument involving two non-wrestlers, one of whom had no association with WWE.  If WWE can produce any credible evidence that this segment helped their business or future ratings in any way I will sign over the deed to my house.

The actual third match was Kane vs. Shane McMahon, making this the sixth PPV of 2003 to feature at least one McMahon in a match (and the third PPV of the year to feature TWO McMahons wrestling).  I dunno what this family was smoking in 2003 that made them think people were climbing over each other in the hopes of seeing WWE's owners pretend to fight other people (or each other).  Just unreal stupid.  Anyway this was an Ambulance Match, or as I like to call it, a Casket Match.  Same rules except with an ambulance doubling as a casket.  This stunk other than featuring another Shane-should-be-dead highspot.

For some reason they booked a forgettable Tag Title match between Los Guerreros and The Basham Brothers (one of the most nondescript teams I can recall).  This was your standard free TV match and didn't warrant inclusion on this card.

Finally a PPV-worthy bout broke out as Team Bischoff (Randy Orton, Chris Jericho, Christian, Scott Steiner, and Mark Henry) faced Team Austin (Shawn Michaels, Rob Van Dam, Booker T and The Dudley Boyz) in an elimination match for control of RAW.  Over the previous six months or so RAW was run by co-GMs, Steve Austin and Eric Bischoff, whose bickering yielded some pretty amusing segments but got tiresome after a while.  Finally it was decided they would each assemble a team with the winner becoming the sole GM.  For 27 minutes WWE reminded us all how good the Survivor Series concept could be.  This match was full of excellent action and drama, and came down to Shawn Michaels alone against Orton, Jericho and Christian.  A horribly bloodied Michaels fought valiantly, eliminating Jericho and Christian before finally succumbing to Orton.  Steve Austin was then forced to step down and gave a heartfelt farewell speech.  Of course he'd be back on TV a couple months later as the RAW "Sheriff," so in the end this match meant very little.  But it's still one of the best-ever Series matches.

Probably the most unexpectedly awesome elimination match ever.

Time for McMahon circlejerk #2 of the evening, as Vince took on The Undertaker in a Buried Alive match.  This amounted to little more than an extended squash.  Taker bloodied Vince in the opening seconds and spent the next eleven minutes pummeling him, only to be attacked by Kane in the closing moments, allowing Vince to win.  Yup, Vince booked himself to beat The Undertaker.  So let's see, Vince McMahon holds a WWF Title win over Triple H, a Royal Rumble win over Steve Austin, and a Buried Alive Match win over The Undertaker.  This is the pro wrestling booking equivalent of bending in half and blowing oneself.  For the record this sleep-and-nausea-inducing hokum was only about a minute shorter than the Lesnar elimination match, and LONGER than the main event of this show......

.....which ended up being the Goldberg-Triple H World Title rematch.  Remember their match at Unforgiven 2003?  Photocopy it, take out the novelty of a first-time dream match, and throw in a bunch of failed run-ins, and you have this.  Goldberg retained despite Randy Orton, Batista, and Ric Flair all attempting to interfere.  So one could argue that if the Title wasn't going to change hands and this match wasn't going to really one-up the first encounter, that it probably shouldn't have gone last.

There was really only one reason to watch Survivor Series 2003, and no matter how much they'd like to believe it, it wasn't to see a McMahon wrestle.  Outside of the RAW elimination match, which is pretty incredible, this show was mostly comprised of hot garbage.  Between Vince and Shane each fighting a Brother of Destruction, Triple H and Goldberg having another go through the motions, and the Smackdown elimination match getting comically shortchanged, there's crap oozing out all over the place here.

Best Match: Team Austin vs. Team Bischoff
Worst Match: Undertaker vs. Vince McMahon
What I'd Change: Alright, ready?  Put the Smackdown elimination match on last and change the teams as follows: Brock Lesnar/Big Show/A-Train/Shelton Benjamin/Charlie Haas (how were Haas & Benjamin not booked??) vs. Kurt Angle/Chris Benoit/John Cena/Los Guerreros.  Give that match 25 minutes and watch the fireworks.  Move Triple H-Goldberg to the semi-main slot.  It wasn't good enough to be last.  Combine the Vince-Shane nonsense so it's Vince/Kane vs. Taker/Shane, and make that the first-ever Tag Team Buried Alive match.  And put the Cruiserweight Title match back on the show.  Then you have a streamlined six-match PPV with two great elimination matches, one of which is the main event.
Most Disappointing Match: Team Angle vs. Team Lesnar - I'm still pissed at how far this fell short of expectations.
Most Pleasant Surprise: Team Austin vs. Team Bischoff
Overall Rating: 5/10
Better than WrestleMania XIX and/or SummerSlam '03? - Negatory.

Survivor Series 2004 - Gund Arena - 11/14/04

The 2004 edition was a great big donut PPV - good at the beginning and the end, but empty in the middle.  This was honestly a show I wasn't expecting to like much at all, but it ended up being pretty decent.  The push was on for the OVW Class of 2002, as Randy Orton had become the company's top babyface despite being ill-suited for the role, and John Cena and Batista were emerging to the forefront.  I wasn't much interested in any of these guys but I got why they were being pushed.  JBL as the WWE Champ however was another matter.  Still befuddled by that one.

The opener was a Fatal 4-Way Cruiserweight Title match, as Spike Dudley defended against Rey Mysterio, Chavo Guerrero and Billy Kidman.  Exactly the type of match you want to kick off a PPV - fast-paced and full of crowd-pleasing moves.

Next was a potential show-stealer, as Shelton Benjamin defended the I-C Title against Christian.  This was given ample time and both guys turned in some fine work.  Remember when the company actually seemed to give a shit about Shelton?  And the I-C belt?

The donut hole began now, with the Smackdown elimination match.  Kurt Angle, Carlito, Luther Reigns (any relation to Roman?), and Mark Jindrak faced Eddie Guerrero, Rob Van Dam, Big Show, and John Cena.  For the second year in a row the SD elimination match seemed like it was only included out of obligation, and one of the participants was eliminated before the opening bell.  Unbelievable.  Carlito ran in fear from his nemesis John Cena (from whom he had cheaply won the US Title in his television debut) and was counted out.  From there Team Eddie dominated and made short work of the heels, winning the match in a scant twelve minutes.

Angle's team got bitchslapped here.

The most offensive match on the show was next, as The Undertaker took on the cosmically inept, made-Sycho-Sid-look-competent Heidenreich.  John Heidenreich was essentially WWE's attempt to replace Brock Lesnar as a monster heel, except he lacked Lesnar's wrestling background and most of his athletic ability and natural presence.  But they still paired him with Paul Heyman hoping the name association and Heidenreich's passing resemblance would make us all forget about Brock.  So in essence he was the 2004 counterpart to Fake Razor & Diesel.  By the way there was a point in this match where John struggled noticeably to figure out how to execute a Cobra Clutch.  How he made it past Developmental I'll never know.  This went sixteen laborious minutes.

Here's a quick one though, Trish vs. Lita for the Women's Title?  84 seconds.  Yes, they used up valuable air time for ring entrances, introductions and a video package, for a match that ended in disqualification after eighty-four seconds.  Eat me.

Finally things got back on track in the semi-main spot, as WWE Champion JBL faced Booker T in a very solid 14-minute brawl.  Both guys worked hard to make Booker look like a strong challenger who should've had the match won but for extensive cheating on JBL's part.  This is a good forgotten match.

Two men in this match do not belong.  I'll give ya three guesses who they are.

The main event was shockingly a Survivor Series elimination match.  Funny how when Triple H is a Champion his elimination match goes last, but in 2003 when Brock Lesnar was a Champion his elimination match opened the show.  Anyway, Triple H, Edge, Batista and Snitsky(??) squared off against Randy Orton, Chris Benoit, Chris Jericho and Maven(?????).  Once again a participant was missing at the start of the match, as Snitsky had laid out Maven backstage.  Not to worry though, the Tough Enough grad made it back in time to get pinned by Triple H.  This boiled down to Randy Orton vs. Hunter and Edge, and he defeated them both.  Remember, we were still in the midst of the failed Randy Orton Babyface Experiment (ROBE for short) of 2004, when Orton got dumped by Evolution and somehow that was supposed to make us like him.  But this match was good stuff. 

The 2004 edition was far from great, but it had four good matches out of seven, including the two top-billed bouts.  Not too shabby considering what a shambles the product was at this time.

Best Match: Team Orton vs. Team Triple H
Worst Match: Undertaker vs. Heidenreich - This was not unlike gouging the tender skin under your nails with a letter opener.
What I'd Change: Cut Trish vs. Lita.  Sorry, I love them both, but if they're only getting 90 seconds, save it for RAW.  Fire Heidenreich and give Taker a real opponent.  Tack ten minutes onto the Smackdown elimination match.
Most Disappointing Match: Team Guerrero vs. Team Angle
Most Pleasant Surprise: JBL vs. Booker T
Overall Rating: 6.5/10
Better than WrestleMania XX and/or SummerSlam '04? - Ummmm, nope.

Sigh.....sometimes it's exhausting being a wrestling fan. 

Part 5                                                                                                                                                Part 7

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