Friday, November 17, 2023

The History of WWE Survivor Series (2015)

WWE wasn't even trying with this show....

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, like so many others, was a career nosedive from day one.  Can't imagine why he later asked for his release.....

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: 5/10
Better than WrestleMania 31, SummerSlam 2015 and/or Royal Rumble 2015? - No, no way, and yes.

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