Friday, November 16, 2018

The History of WWE Survivor Series, part 10 (2014-2016)

Almost near the end of our historical journey....

Survivor Series 2014 - Scottrade Center - 11/23/14

Oddly the main event of the 2014 edition was like a do-over from 2013.  The Authority picked five guys to represent them, against a five-man insurrection led by the company's top babyface.  And if the good guys won, The Authority would be out of power, with only the babyface leader able to reinstate them.  On paper that's a pretty high-stakes elimination match.  Unfortunately the execution leading up to this show was so bad and lacked all urgency, and this type of angle has been done so many times no one really cared.  A year prior, with the Daniel Bryan vs. The Authority feud in high gear, this would've been epic.  In 2014 though, with longtime WWE posterboy John Cena cast as "The guy Triple H and Steph don't want representing the company because........just because," it doesn't quite work.  But before we get to this match, let's look at the rest of the show.

First up was a four-way match for the Tag Team Title, as Goldust & Stardust defended against Team Mizdow, The Usos, and Los Matadores.  Taken in and of itself this match was perfectly decent.  It was given over fifteen minutes and everyone involved could work.  The problem was these four teams had faced each other in various combinations ad nauseum over the preceding weeks, so nothing about this felt special.  It was just eight guys executing a match.  Also this being Survivor Series, Elimination Rules would've made more sense.  Mizdow won the belts prematurely to further the eventual split between Miz and Sandow, which as we all know led to nothing.

They won the belts too soon and split up too soon.
Next up was a four-on-four Divas elimination match: Alicia Fox, Emma, Naomi and Natalya vs. Paige, Cameron, Layla, and Summer Rae.  There was little point to this match but I'll be goddamned if it wasn't terribly entertaining.  It's a rare thing for a women's match of any kind to get nearly fifteen minutes on a PPV, and this was actually treated like a real Survivor Series bout.  Sadly it was a clean sweep which I hate in general (these should be saved for very rare occasions and made into a huge deal), but I liked the match quite a bit all things considered.

The first big match of the night was next, as Dean Ambrose faced Bray Wyatt in a battle of the crazy dudes.  This was pretty underwhelming actually, and ended with a lame DQ.  They'd have a much better match with an even dumber ending at TLC.

Next up was Adam Rose and The Bunny vs. Heath Slater and Titus O'Neil.  What in the hell was the point of this?  Between the match itself and the entrances this took up probably 7 minutes of valuable air time that could've been given to one of the matches people actually gave a shit about.

The semi-main slot once again went to the Divas Title, as AJ Lee faced Nikki Bella.  Always fond of referencing booking decisions the fans universally hate, this match was a callback to the infamous 18-second screwjob from WrestleMania 28.  You know which one.  Evil Nikki's good twin Brie climbed up on the ring apron and kissed AJ, distracting her long enough for Nikki to attack from behind and hit her Rack Attack finisher for the quick win.  Thus Brie became a heel along with Nikki, with exactly no justification given, after three months of the two feuding with each other.  I'm still waiting for an explanation, dicks.

And finally we arrive at the main event of Survivor Series 2013, except it's 2014.  Team Authority: Seth Rollins, Rusev, Luke Harper, Kane and Mark Henry vs. Team Cena: John Cena, Big Show, Dolph Ziggler, Ryback and Erick Rowan.  The teams had changed several times leading up to this show, with Ryback teasing an alliance with the Authority only to jump to Cena's side, and Erick Rowan turning babyface for no reason to replace an injured Sheamus.  So this whole match was a nonsensical jumble.  The booking wasn't much better really.  Mark Henry was ousted in the first minute (because we can't have a major elimination match without someone being pinned immediately) before things settled down into a very good Survivor Series match.

But after Ryback, Rusev and Rowan were gone, Nonsense Booking #1 took place: Big Show just decided mid-match to sell out his team and join the Authority, knocking Cena out and leaving him primed for elimination.  This meant Dolph Ziggler was on his own against Rollins, Kane and Harper.  Now, if this happened after say, Team Cena lost two guys in a row, making it 5-3, then I could maybe understand Show selling out.  But as it was later explained, Show "panicked" and screwed over his own team when they were tied at 3.  So it made no sense at all.  It was dramatic though, and set up Ziggler for an amazing comeback stretch that ultimately left him one-on-one with Rollins.

Now for Nonsense Booking #2 - Triple H attacked two different referees as they were about to count a pin on Rollins, then beat up Ziggler himself and called for corrupt official Scott Armstrong to count the pin.  Now, it seems to me that in a situation where the guy in charge of the company will be ousted from power if his team loses a match, it's kind of idiotic booking for him to physically interfere.  If he has the clout to get away with directly affecting the match's outcome, why not just install his corrupt referee from the outset and screw over the good guys?  If he doesn't have the clout to get away with it, the screwjob result would just get thrown out anyway.  So Hunter getting physically involved doesn't work in either situation.

Hey who invited the homeless clown?

Finally it was time for Nonsense Booking #3, as Sting showed up out of nowhere to confront Triple H and take him out of the equation before rolling Ziggler on top of Rollins for all the marbles.  Two things about Sting's appearance here: 1) Sting had no emotional stake whatsoever in this match or in The Authority's existence, so why would he show up?  2) Randy Orton had been injured by Rollins a month earlier and hadn't been seen since, so why in the fuck wasn't HE the one to show up and even the odds against The Authority??  Wouldn't that have told a much better story?  I know everyone was ga-ga over Sting's WWE debut, but since this particular role didn't work for him at all, and he wouldn't be seen on WWE TV again until like February, there was no point to this.  He never even showed up on RAW to explain himself until the build for WrestleMania, and his eventual match with Hunter was just turned into yet another "WCW sucks" angle that resulted in his losing his first WWE match.

All that said, this was a really good elimination match that was full of drama and given weight not seen since the Team Austin vs. Team Bischoff match at the 2003 Series.  But the sloppy-as-fuck storytelling prevented this from being an all-time great match.

Overall the 2014 Series was pretty indicative of the state of the company, where the in-ring talent was more than capable of pulling off a good PPV, but the Creative was a total mess, both in building up the show and executing the finishes.  Also the company clearly had no endgame for RAW post-Authority, as the show reverted to the reviled Guest Host format from 2009, where a revolving door of celebrities and roster members were in charge for the night.  The Authority were reinstated by early 2015, so this whole show was pretty pointless in the grand scheme.  Then again, at this this wasn't Survivor Series 2013....

Best Match: Team Authority vs. Team Cena
Worst Match: Adam Rose & Bunny vs. Slater & O'Neil
What I'd Change: A lot.  The main event should've happened a year earlier, the Rose match shouldn't have happened at all, and Creative should've happened to plan out some kind of worthy aftermath to all this nonsense.
Most Disappointing Match: Ambrose vs. Wyatt
Most Pleasant Surprise: Divas Elimination Match
Overall Rating: 6.5/10
Better than WrestleMania XXX, SummerSlam 2014 and/or Royal Rumble 2014? - No, nope, and yes.

Survivor Series 2015 - Philips Arena - 11.22.15

This was one of those shows where the matches were all inoffensive at worst, but the booking was so completely tone-deaf and out of touch with basic wrestling logic and the will of WWE's entire fanbase.  At a time when the top three in-ring talents, plus a host of other top names, were on the shelf with injuries the company presented three hours of almost total counterproductivity.  I can't recall a time when the WWE Title has been so marginalized, or when an intended top babyface has been made to look so ineffectual.

First a little background.  Seth Rollins had been the WWE Champion since cashing in the briefcase at WrestleMania 31, and was scheduled to finally defend the strap one-on-one against Vince's intended "It guy" Roman Reigns.  The plan was for Reigns' coronation to take place at Survivor Series.  But a couple weeks before the show Rollins suffered a knee injury that would sideline him for 4-6 months.  So a tournament was held for the vacant Title, with Reigns, Alberto Del Rio, Dean Ambrose and Kevin Owens advancing to the Final Four at Survivor Series.  Now that that's outta the way let's look at the card....

At long last, the epic showdown.....we didn't get.

The pre-show elimination match was entertaining enough.  Goldust returned from an injury and he and his team made pretty easy work of the Stardust-led heel team (What a pointless feud that ended up).  But unfortunately, as with the main card elimination match, there was zero story here.  It was another case of "ten guys we don't have anything for."  Furthermore, the Goldust team consisted of 48-year-old Dustin Runnels, both 40-plus Dudley Boyz, and a near-40 Titus O'Neil (subbing for the injured Cesaro).  Oh, and former NXT sensation Neville - the one guy eliminated from the babyface team.  Neville's "call-up" from NXT has been a career nosedive from day one.

The two tournament semi-final matches were both solid.  Reigns vs. Del Rio was called by many the Match of the Night, which I don't agree with.  It was perfectly good but not above three stars or so.  Regardless, no complaints overall.  Ambrose vs. Owens was about on the same level as the opener, but the shortness of it made it feel a little underwhelming.  Turns out that would be a theme on this show.

Next up was the one Survivor Series match on the Survivor Series card.  The two teams were announced exactly two minutes prior to the start of the bout, which is always a good idea if you want your audience to give a sweet crap about what they're watching.  The New Day, Sheamus & Wade Barrett faced Ryback, Lucha Dragons and The Usos, and were given about 18 minutes to tell whatever story this was supposed to be.  The 2015 Money in the Bank winner Sheamus was presented like a buffoonish comedy character and was later deserted by The New Day (Mind you, Kofi Kingston and Xavier Woods were never counted out or DQd - they were just gone, after helping the eliminated Big E to the back).  Remaining babyfaces Ryback, Jimmy Uso and Kalisto then pretty handily trounced the Celtic Warrior for the win.  Sheamus got pinned by Ryback.  Remember that later.  Sheamus got pinned clean by Ryback (who just a week earlier got pinned clean by Kalisto).

The one real highlight for me was the Divas Title match.  Charlotte and Paige put together an urgent, compelling, innovative 14-minute match that cemented Ms. Flair as the top women's wrestler in the company.  It took a few months, but Charlotte and her fellow NXT alum were by this time finally starting to upstage their male counterparts.  Prior to this I couldn't remember another main roster PPV where the women stole the show (aside from the dreadful 2006 Survivor Series when Lita vs. Mickie James won MOTN by default).  It wasn't perfect and certainly nowhere near the level of the NXT Women's matches or the later Charlotte-Sasha feud, but this was my favorite match of the night.

Now this I liked

The final three matches on this show totaled about 26 minutes.  Totaled. Twenty-six. Minutes.

Dolph Ziggler vs. the latest NXT alum Tyler Breeze was given less than seven minutes and would've been right at home on the first hour of Smackdown.

The semi-main event went to the most hyped match on the show, The Undertaker & Kane vs. two Wyatts.  Originally it seemed like they'd pit all four Wyatts against Taker, Kane and two other babyfaces (Ya know, a Survivor Series match?), but they opted for just two-on-two here.  Again, I want someone in WWE to tell me with a straight face that a plain ol' tag match is a bigger draw on a Survivor Series PPV than a Survivor Series match.  This went about ten minutes and the Wyatts once again came off as not remotely threatening.  It's like Vince has ADD; he gets attached to a new guy for like three months, has him feud with John Cena, lose, and he's never the same again.  Bray Wyatt's main event potential had long since evaporated by this point, and thanks to yet another nostalgia "celebration" he was now 0-2 against the 50-year-old Undertaker.  There wasn't any point to this except to acknowledge Taker's 25th anniversary.  If that's your only storyline going into a semi-main event, you need a rewrite.  And a swift punch in the sack.

Now for the main event, the Finals of the WWE Title tournament.  A first-ever one-on-one encounter between best friends Roman Reigns and Dean Ambrose.  This one's for all the chips.  And it got nine minutes.  NINE.  This was the second-shortest match of the night, and it started at about 10:25pm.  Please can someone with a brain explain to me why a WWE Title tournament final got about 25% of the remaining airtime?  Regardless of what took place after, which only ate up another six minutes or so, there was no excuse for Reigns-Ambrose getting so shortchanged.  This was like a Bischoff Era WCW PPV main event.  It was a fine match while it lasted too, and by all rights should've been the best match on the PPV.  But sadly it simply didn't go long enough.  Reigns finally got the job done after nearly a year of trying, and was crowned the new WWE Champion.

Worst cash-in since Jack Swagger

Aaaaand then the Parade of Stupid arrived.  Sheamus, who hadn't won a meaningful match since Money in the Bank, who an hour earlier got chumped out by his own teammates and pretty easily defeated by the long-irrelevant Ryback, and who lost in the first round of this particular tournament, cashed in the briefcase to win the fucking Title.

So, in the wake of numerous injuries to top stars, 18-year-low ratings, and general audience apathy, WWE's big solution was to give the WWE Title to a guy they hadn't pushed in the slightest in six months.  Not only that, but their strategy for pushing the less-than-blazing Roman Reigns (who wasn't nearly as popular as Dean Ambrose on this show), was to shoehorn him into the role of perennially-screwed-over underdog, despite said role being 100% against his character.  Roman Reigns, heel or babyface, should always be a killing machine.  Think Goldberg but Samoan (Samoldberg?).  Here's the thing about top babyface characters - unless they naturally fit the character of Underdog (like Daniel Bryan), fans don't wanna see them get repeatedly effed by the heels, nor do they wanna see them easily duped.  At a certain point they stop being sympathetic and just come off as chumps.  Reigns needed to either turn heel or beat Ambrose in a great 17-minute match AND withstand Sheamus's onslaught to retain.

The followup to this was an abysmal Reigns vs. Sheamus program that tanked in the ratings, and only a month later they had Reigns win back the belt while Sheamus and his new League of Nations faction flopped all kinds of hard.  This show would've been a great time to shake things up by turning Reigns or Ambrose heel (Reigns - it should've been Reigns), and having them feud going into WrestleMania season.  But Vince stuck stubbornly to Roman as the top babyface, and the results were pretty terrible.  Like I said, match-wise nothing on this show was offensive, but it still wasn't good at all thanks to horribly unimaginative booking.

Best Match: Charlotte vs. Paige
Worst Match: Undertaker & Kane vs. Bray & Harper
What I'd Change: Make the Taker match a goddamn elimination match.  How hard is that?  And give the tournament final the proper amount of time, given its importance.  And either turn Reigns heel or have Reigns beat Sheamus too.
Most Disappointing Match: Reigns vs. Ambrose
Most Pleasant Surprise: Charlotte vs. Paige
Overall Rating: 6/10
Better than WrestleMania 31, SummerSlam 2015 and/or Royal Rumble 2015? - No, no way, and yes.

Survivor Series 2016 - Air Canada Centre - 11.20.16

For the 2016 edition WWE finally took the Survivor Series concept back to its roots (mostly), assembling three huge traditional elimination matches - one for the men, one for the women, and one for the tag team division.  All three delivered on some level, laying the foundation for what turned out the best main roster PPV of the year.  Additionally there were three singles matches, two of which also delivered, and one which just may be the most baffling thing of any kind, in any medium, in any universe, ever.  Advanced trigonometry makes more sense to me than did this main event.  But before I start complaining about a show that I frankly quite enjoyed overall, let's talk about the good stuff.

Brock's afraid of Grampa.

The show opened with the Women's elimination match pitting RAW Champ Charlotte, Sasha Banks, Bayley, Nia Jax, and Alicia Fox against Smackdown Champion Becky Lynch, Naomi, Alexa Bliss, Carmella, and Natalya, subbing for Nikki Bella who was attacked by a mystery person backstage (later revealed to be Nattie herself to get into this match).  This match was a lot of fun despite a slightly rushed pace.  The women got a solid 17 minutes to work with and multiple feuds played out a bit.  The RAW vs. Smackdown rivalry has never, and will never work as a believable feud, but at least in a few cases the babyfaces and heels were booked as very reluctant partners.  After Bayley won the match for her team, her co-survivor Charlotte beat the holy hell out of her, hammering home that the pleasantries were over.  Pretty much everyone in this match got time to make an impression, particularly Nia Jax who was booked like a monster, eliminating Naomi by countout after beeling her off the apron onto the floor.  This match easily ranked high on the list of best women's Survivor Series bouts, right up there with the Team Moolah vs. Team Sherri match from 1987.  A great way to open the PPV.

Next up was the Intercontinental Championship, as The Miz, fresh off regaining the strap the previous Tuesday defended against Dolph Ziggler's scheduled opponent, Sami Zayn.  I'm still not sure why Miz was booked to win back the Title at the last minute, as Zayn vs. Ziggler surely would've been the superior contest.  But this was quite alright too.  As I've said before, Zayn is nigh incapable of having a bad match, and The Miz was looking better than ever.  So this gelled nicely.  Miz eventually won in classic heel fashion.  Zayn had slapped on a figure four and Maryse rang the bell to distract both Zayn and the referee, allowing Miz to roll Zayn up for a cheap pinfall.  This was a cheap finish, but an appropriate one for Miz's character.

The second elimination match pitted the RAW tag teams against the Smackdown tag teams, and after an infuriating first minute or so which saw two pointlessly quick eliminations (Fandango was handing out "fashion police tickets" to all his opponents and The New Day nailed him with Midnight Hour, then Jey Uso superkicked Kofi Kingston - Breezango and The New Day were gone), the match settled into a pretty great contest befitting the 10-on-10 tradition.  I will never understand the overuse of quick eliminations to start off these matches; they're only shocking when used sparingly.  But most of the teams got some solid ring time.  American Alpha in particular were showcased pretty well, though I'd have liked to see them make it to the end.  The final five minutes of this were excellent, as The Usos battled breathlessly with Sheamus & Cesaro, who despite still not being quite on the same page, managed to outlast their Smackdown opponents for the win.  Cesaro then tried to shake Sheamus's hand and was rebuffed before celebrating with the crowd.  Nice stuff here.

Another very enjoyable singles match followed (and was then ruined at the end), as Cruiserweight Champion Brian Kendrick faced Kalisto.  This was nowhere near Cruiserweight Classic territory but was still easily the best CW Title match of the new era to that point.  Kendrick and Kalisto meshed very well and put together a fairly fast-paced bout that got room to breathe.  Kalisto was on the verge of winning the belt and bringing the entire CW division to Smackdown (which would make sense given the new 205 Live show airs AFTER Smackdown), then some dickhead decided Baron Corbin should return from kayfabe injury and break up the match.  I still find it baffling that WWE would elect to resurrect the CW division only to treat them like total geeks.  This booking served no purpose other than to further the Corbin-Kalisto feud and made the CW title an afterthought as usual.  What a waste of a good match.

The highlight of the night, imperfect though it was, got the semi-main event slot, as Kevin Owens, Chris Jericho, Seth Rollins, Roman Reigns, and Braun Strowman faced AJ Styles, Dean Ambrose, Randy Orton, Bray Wyatt, and Shane McMahon (subbing for the "injured" Baron Corbin, who was back from injury anyway - figure that one out).

Lemme get something out of the way first: Shane McMahon needs to stop wrestling.  Yes, most of his involvement in this match was entertaining, but at multiple points he either caused a miscue, called a very loud audible, or just looked stilted and awkward.  But worse, he got seriously banged up by a jumping spear from Reigns, to the point that he forgot to keep his shoulders down for the intended pin.  Reigns sold exhaustion as he covered Shane, and Shane vacantly rolled to his side before the referee deemed him too injured to continue.  This was a pretty horrifying moment that didn't need to happen if they'd just left Corbin in the match as originally planned.  Shane is too old at this point to be taking these crazy bumps.  I have no interest in watching him wrestle, let alone kill himself in the ring.  WWE of course learned nothing from this, as Shane would continue wrestling sporadically all through 2017.

Okay, all that aside, I dug this match a lot.  It was epic, it had drama, it had chaos, it had multiple story threads, it was everything I want out of an old school Survivor Series match.  Ambrose and AJ couldn't get along and AJ got Ambrose eliminated.  Braun Strowman was booked like a monster whom Team Smackdown could only oust from the match via cheap countout.  Jericho and Owens let their overly close relationship, and Jericho's "List," cause both their eliminations.  Ambrose got revenge on AJ and briefly reunited with his former Shield pals to put Styles through a table (The crowd went apeshit for this).  Orton sacrificed himself at the end by shoving Wyatt out of the way of an oncoming Reigns spear, allowing Wyatt to flatten Reigns with Sister Abigail for the win (Wyatt hadn't looked this effective in years).  Warts and all, and at an arduous 53 minutes, this bout was as fitting a Survivor Series main event as they've likely ever done.  Too bad it wasn't actually the main event.

Instead the main event slot went to a 1998 Goldberg squash that lasted 86 seconds.  Eighty.  Six.  Fucking.  Seconds.  After hyping the ever-loving shit out of this match for two months, WWE decided that Brock Lesnar, built up since 2013 as an unbeatable, planet-devouring leviathan, should job to a 49-year-old who hadn't laced up a pair of boots since Bush's first term, in less time than it takes to nuke a bag o' rice.  Lesnar got nary a shred of offense in after muscling Goldberg into a corner.  Goldie shoved Lesnar down, speared him as he got up, speared him again, and jackhammered him for the win.  And the crowd went atomic.  And I found the entire scene so flummoxing I didn't know whether to drink or jump out the window (Fortunately cooler heads prevailed and I chose the former).  Can someone explain to me, in an era where the current roster is struggling to get over, at a time when WWE consistently presents the stars of the 90s as far superior attractions to those of today, how it makes a goddamn lick of sense for the Streak-conquering, Cena-crushing, Orton-murdering Brock Lesnar to get squashed by someone who gains exactly zero from this win, as opposed to a Roman Reigns or a Seth Rollins or a Cesaro or a Bray Wyatt or a Samoa Joe.  Once again Vince stops the Brock train dead in its tracks in a way that gets no one over (a la 2002 when Big Show snapped Lesnar's undefeated streak and was curtain-jerking at the Royal Rumble two months later).  I don't even care that much that Lesnar lost to Goldberg, I just can't wrap my head around having it happen in 86 seconds.  As it turned out Goldberg was banged up from training and Vince didn't want him to hurt himself or expose how limited he was.  MAYBE DON'T HAVE HIM BEAT LESNAR THEN???  Goldie of course went on to kill Kevin Owens (and his push) dead three months later win a 21-second Universal Title win, and finally had as close to a real match as he's capable of at this age at WrestleMania 33, dropping the belt to Brock.  This whole Goldberg run was a gigantic waste of time.

Fuck right off with this.

Alright, enough griping from me.  As long as you shut off this PPV before the last five minutes, Survivor Series 2016 was a helluva fun show with three good-to-excellent elimination matches that made up the bulk.  Had the main event not been such a shitshow this would be an A-PPV.  At least they made Survivor Series feel Big Four for the first time in ages, and it seems this trend will continue for the foreseeable future.  I kinda loved most of this show in spite of some glaring main roster problems, and despite the pointless main event I'm inclined to be generous with my final rating.

Best Match: Men's Elimination Match
Worst Match: Lesnar vs. Goldberg
What I'd Change: Aside from having a MATCH in the main event, I never would've put Shane in there, I would've given the CW match a real finish that resulted in Smackdown gaining the division, and I would've cut the quick eliminations in the Tag Teams match.  Most of those complaints have more to do with big picture problems and less to do with the actual work done on this show.
Most Disappointing Match: Despite my lower-than-dirt expectations for Lesnar-Goldberg, they amazingly managed to STILL disappoint me.  Quite an accomplishment.
Most Pleasant Surprise: That none of the elimination matches got criminally shortchanged
Overall Rating: 8.5/10
Better than WrestleMania 32, SummerSlam 2016 and/or Royal Rumble 2016? - Yes on all three

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