Monday, November 19, 2018

WWE Survivor Series 2018: This. Was. Awesome.

Well I'll be goddammned.  WWE actually pulled off a really great Survivor Series PPV that for me even exceeded the miraculously good show from 2016.  Including the pre-show match (which has to be one of the two or three best pre-show matches of all time), this had three very good elimination matches, four excellent singles bouts and only one throwaway tag match.  In 2018 this is about as good a main roster WWE show as you could ever hope for.  Let's get into it.

I pretty much always skip the pre-shows for these PPVs but since this particular pre-show included my beloved 10-team elimination match I made it a point to watch, and I was glad I did.  While this was obviously no Powers of Pain-Demolition epic from 1988, these ten teams worked their asses off to do something memorable.  The first half felt a bit rushed as teams were getting eliminated pretty quickly, but once it boiled down to New Day & Usos vs. Revival & Gable/Roode, this kicked into high gear.  Loads of crazy offense and dives over/off the top rope (including an absolutely nuts spot where Jimmy Uso German suplexed Gable off the top, onto the pile of guys on the floor).  It boiled down to The Usos vs. The Revival - nice to see Dash & Dawson make it to the end - and Jimmy & Jey hit their superkicks followed by a top-rope splash to win the whole thing.  Just a damn fun opener that won the crowd over (WWE should hold every PPV at the Staples Center, by the way; this crowd was awesome).  ***1/2

The proper PPV opened with the women's elimination match, and this was roughly on par with the 2016 edition.  Some last minute changes improved the match, as Nattie and Ruby Riott were subbed out after a locker room fight in favor of Sasha and Bayley (nothing against Nattie and Ruby, but you can't omit Sasha and Bayley in one of these things).  Mandy Rose disappointingly ended up being the mystery partner for Smackdown, but she at least earned her keep in this match.  Of course the match started with two "shocking" quick eliminations.  WWE has to stop doing this - both main card elimination matches had them and they never get the desired reaction.  They seemingly set up dissension between Rose and Sonya Deville, as Rose stole a pin on Mickie James after Deville leveled her with a sliding knee.  Sasha tapped out Mandy with a Bank Statement and Bayley and Sonya got double counted out.  This paved the way for a super engaging exchange between Sasha and Asuka that lasted a good four minutes.  I'm hoping Sasha gets moved to Smackdown so we can actually see this feud.  More on that later.  Sasha gained the upper hand and climbed to the top rope only for Nia Jax to push her off into a waiting Asuka, who slapped on the Asuka Lock for the tap out.  Nia then pounced on Asuka with three legdrops, followed by a Samoan Drop for the win.  Nia had nuclear heel heat coming off her injury of Becky Lynch.  I'm torn on the idea of exploiting a real-life injury to get someone else over, but I guess that's kinda the nature of the biz, and I have to commend Nia for running with it so well.  She came off like a total asshole here.  Very enjoyable match to open the main card.  ***1/2

Next up was a top contender for Match of the Night, as Seth Rollins faced Shinsuke Nakamura.  I daresay this was Nak's best main roster match to date.  He looked a lot like his old NJPW self here, pulling out every move in his arsenal and played the antagonist to the hilt.  The first half of the match was a little slow in spots and they struggled to keep the crowd into it, but in the second half everything picked up tremendously.  They built to a furious pace by the end, trading finisher attempts and counters, and finally Nak went for a Kinshasa but missed, allowing Seth to hit the Curb Stomp for the win after 22 minutes.  I was very happy to see this get the time it deserved and even happier to see Nakamura look really motivated again.  This was pretty excellent.  ****1/4

The one skippable match of the night, though it wasn't bad either, was The Bar vs. Authors of Pain.  The two teams worked hard and incorporated some fun spots, like when Cesaro was giant-swinging one Author and the other jumped over him to attack Cesaro.  They worked a fairly stiff brawling style and the match was fine, but the crowd wasn't into it, partly because of Enzo Amore, who was sitting in the second row and decided to stand on his chair and cut a promo before being swiftly ejected by security.  What a chode.  Anyway, the match ended with AOP's manager Drake Maverick being choked by The Big Show and pissing himself.  This was a stupid Attitude Era throwback, but whatever.  What was actually offensive about it was The Bar being so distracted by this they allowed AOP to hit their finisher and win the match.  Not sure why The Bar couldn't have won this one.  **

Now for the Cruiserweight Title match - I had zero interest going into this, as did the live crowd.  They were dead as Dillinger for the first several minutes, and then something extraordinary happened: two guys no one cared about put on such a good match the crowd went from zero to This Is Awesome in the span of eight minutes or so.  I don't think I've ever seen that happen before.  Buddy Murphy and Mustafa Ali worked their asses off, building to a fever pitch and hitting some insane moves like a reverse rana, a V-Trigger, and an absolutely BANANAS Spanish Fly off the announce table.  Buddy Murphy finally hit Murphy's Law for the win at 12 minutes to cap off a fantastic cruiser match.  This division needs an hour of RAW devoted to it so people will actually see this stuff every week.  ****

The men's elimination match went on surprisingly early, but I guess when Ronda and Brock are both on the show they automatically get the last two slots.  Anyway this match contained the one item that legitimately pissed me off, and yet still managed to be a very entertaining 24 minutes.  Samoa Joe got eliminated in 35 seconds after going for the Coquina Clutch on Drew McIntyre, only for Drew to counter, roll out, and hit the Claymore Kick.  I cannot even wrap my brain around the idea of Joe being the first one out, after you've pushed him like crazy for four months in a feud with AJ.  It's bonkers.  The crowd was fucking livid about this, but to their credit, everyone else in the match worked hard to win them back over, and actually succeeded.  After Joe's exit Drew and Braun came to blows and chaos erupted.  Team Smackdown beat up Braun and put him on the announce table for Shane to come off the top rope with an elbowsmash (just like he did to Braun in 2016).  From there we got a really fun Finn Balor-Rey Mysterio segment which of course resulted in Finn being eliminated first from the RAW team (please move this guy to Smackdown so he'll actually have something to do).  Shane McMahon eliminated Ziggler after a Van Terminator and then attempted to do the same to Lashley (egged on by The Miz, who put in great character work in this match) but Strowman clotheslined the shit out of him from the apron.  Lashley went for the pin on Shane but Rey broke it up - Shane really should've been ousted at this point instead of lasting to the end again.  He's not a wrestler for Chrissake.  Anyway, Braun went on a tear from this point, powerslamming all four of his remaining opponents to win the match for his team.  I read a review of this match that described it as "good dumb WWE."  That sums it up perfectly.  This was like a stupid but highly enjoyable action movie.  I should've hated it, but I actually liked it a lot.  Damn you WWE!  ***3/4

The last two matches on this show were fantastic, starting with Ronda Rousey vs. Charlotte Flair.  Holy shit did these women beat the piss out of each other.  This match felt like a legitimate fight, with Flair attempting to go all MMA up in this bitch.  They were stiff as hell and incorporated lots of grappling, while Flair also went for her signature stuff.  Charlotte went move for move with Ronda and the match was dead-even almost the entire time.  Finally after being frustrated on numerous occasions Charlotte rolled to the outside, Ronda went after her, and Charlotte whacked her with a kendo stick for the DQ.  What followed was one of the most violent beatdowns I've seen in a long time.  Charlotte MURDERED Ronda with the kendo stick, leaving welts all over her body, and then Pillmanized her neck with a chair.  The crowd went apeshit for this and it actually took a disturbing turn with chants of "Thank you Charlotte," and a few people actually telling Ronda "You deserve it" as she struggled to her feet.  Ronda was not pleased either, she turned to one fan and told him "You're not a man."  It's reactions like this that kinda make WWE justified in not listening to their audience.  In the first place Ronda has done nothing to deserve the hate; she's completely risen to the occasion and become an excellent top star, and secondly how do you watch an unprovoked mauling like that and actually cheer for the aggressor?  Just mental.  I hope Ronda doesn't let this get to her too much; she was visibly upset leaving the arena.  So obviously a rematch has to happen, as well as the original Ronda vs. Becky match.  I'd suggest doing a roster trade, with Charlotte going to RAW and Sasha to Smackdown.  That way Ronda can feud with Charlotte and we can have a great Asuka-Sasha feud as well.  Anyway this was Ronda Rousey's best match so far.  Just awesome.  ****1/2

Now for the main event.  The match so many of us waited years to see.  Brock Lesnar vs. Daniel Bryan.  I was hoping for something similar to Brock vs. AJ from last year, and I said as long as we got that kind of match I'd be okay with Brock winning.  Wellsir, that's exactly what we got.  Daniel Bryan began the bout by taunting Brock and stalling (which added a nice layer to the story; heel Bryan is awesome) before getting absolutely clobbered, suplexed to death and F5ed.  Literally my only complaint about this match is they shouldn't have done the bit where Brock pulled Bryan's shoulder up during the pin attempt - I hate spots like that.  They could've skipped that first F5 and gone right to the bit where Bryan escaped and knocked down the referee.  Anyway, after the ref was momentarily incapacitated, Bryan did the kick to the nuts (Right. In. The Dick.) and hit Lesnar with the flying knee for a two-count, at which point the place came unglued for the rest of the match.  Bryan kicked the crap out of Brock, hit the flying knees off the apron and worked over Brock's leg to the point that Brock collapsed on a second F5 attempt, which Bryan reversed into the Yes Lock.  Brock sold this beautifully, conveying absolute panic as he struggled to escape.  Brock powered out and Bryan switched to a triangle choke, which Brock countered with a powerbomb, followed by another F5 for the win.  The announcers sold this match like Bryan pulled off a miracle and like Brock knew damn well he was in a fight.  Brock continued to sell his injuries all the way up the ramp, which shows how much respect he has for Bryan.  This was fantastic and made Bryan look like a tough motherfucker despite being such an underdog.  Barring a Bryan upset win this was the exact match I was hoping for.  ****1/2

In spite of a few flaws Survivor Series 2018 was far and away the best main roster show of the year, one that really gave the superb NXT WarGames show a run for its money (full review of that show forthcoming).  I'd call this the best Survivor Series since the two original ones from thirty years ago.  Fun elimination matches, an excellent cruiser match and three fantastic dream matches, all aided by a hot crowd and an announce team that for once seemed motivated.  WWE is fully capable of putting on good PPVs consistently, which makes it so frustrating when they don't.

Best Match: I'm torn between the final two and the Rollins-Nak match, but for its nonstop intensity and the post-match angle I gotta go with Ronda vs. Charlotte
Worst Match: The Bar vs. AOP, but it wasn't terrible
What I'd Change: Shane should've been knocked out much earlier, Joe should've lasted deep into the match, and I have no idea where they're going with RAW sweeping Smackdown.  Why does Vince hate one of his own brands so much?
Most Disappointing Match: Bar vs. AOP was the only disappointing match on the show
Most Pleasant Surprise: The Cruiserweight match, which completely won over a dead crowd
Overall Rating: 9/10
Better than WrestleMania, Royal Rumble and SummerSlam? - Yup

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