Wednesday, November 29, 2023

WWE Survivor Series 2023 Review: CM Punk is "Home"

WWE Survivor Series 2023, like most WWE PPVs nowadays, was....a show.  Neither bad, nor particularly good.  It was a series of competently worked matches that, like so many McDonald's meals, goes in one orifice and out another, without much joy or artistry.  The most memorable thing about this show was of course the return of CM Punk, but even that was just "famous guy comes out and stands there, crowd cheers."  And the followup to it two days later consisted of Punk cutting probably the least memorable promo of his entire career, as he stood in a WWE ring for the first time in a decade (a decade during which he repeatedly and vociferously attacked WWE and its product), and declared "I'm home."  Oh and "I missed you fans (even though I actually came back to wrestling two years ago and have spent plenty of time in your presence since then)."

But back to Survivor Series, as I stated in my predictions piece, WWE WarGames matches really do nothing for me.  They're a spectacle without any real substance.  Wrestlers take turns getting into the cage, some stuff happens, most of it involving kendo sticks (Can someone explain to me why this random Asian weapon has become WWE's favorite, and why there would ever be a slew of these damn things under the ring all the time?), and then someone gets pinned, so much tamer than one team torturing an opponent until they surrender, as was the original rule.  WarGames simply doesn't need to be an annual event, just like Hell in a Cell doesn't.  Both should be reserved for when a feud between two parties is so heated and bloodthirsty it can only be settled in this foreboding structure.  And there needs to be blood.  Sorry, that's just the reality of the situation.  If you want me to believe in the savagery of the WarGames gimmick, the participants need to look like they've been through a war.  AEW's Blood and Guts conveys this every time, because the matches are a bloody, violent car wreck.  When it's over I buy into the idea that these folks risked life and limb to settle a score.  After a WarGames match is over it's just business as usual.  The mat is pristine and everyone looks like they just finished a game of touch football.  You can't expect me to believe I've just witnessed the ultimate in pro wrestling barbarism.  I've said it before, but traditional elimination matches would suit this company and this event so much better than their feeble attempts at brutality.
Anyway the show started with the women's WarGames match, pitting the new Damage CTRL against Bianca Belair, Becky Lynch, Charlotte Flair and Shotzi.  The babyfaces had the man advantage thanks to a fan poll, and this of course threw off the whole balance and heat of the match.  When the heels are at an inherent disadvantage the whole time it kinda dissolves all the tension, doesn't it?  There was a ton of kendo sticking here, as Damage CTRL for some reason has custom-painted black sticks.  Pretty much every participant brought a weapon of some kind into the match, which for me sorta undermines the idea of a cage.  They even went so far, in one of the bout's few memorable spots, to have Iyo Sky lower a chain down to her friend Dakota Kai on the floor, so that Kai could attach a trash can to it, which Iyo then put over her own body before diving onto the pile of women in the ring.  Another high spot involved Charlotte moonsaulting off the cage and over-rotating, landing awkwardly mostly on Iyo's face.  The crowd chanted "we want tables" through much of the bout, a phenomenon I still can't wrap my head around in 2023; the table spot has been done so many thousands of times - maybe dream bigger, WWE faithful?  Asuka finally obliged, and after a slew of finisher and pin attempts, Bayley ate a Charlotte spear, followed by a Shotzi senton, a Bianca KOD, and a Becky Manhandle Slam through the table for the win.  Like every WWE WarGames not held in 2018, this was fine.  ***3/4

The next three matches felt like obligatory filler, the best of them being Gunther's I-C Title defense against The Miz.  Considering The Miz had zero chance of dethroning the monster heel, this was reasonably engaging.  Gunther's more or less incapable of a bad match, and The Miz is a solid dance partner as long as someone good is leading him.  Miz got a bunch of hope spots and the crowd actually bought into a few of his nearfalls, but Gunther polished him off with a Liontamer.  ***1/4

The worst match of the night, though it was fine, was Dragon Lee vs. Santos Escobar, in another example of a match type WWE should really just avoid, the Lucha-style match.  WWE's inexplicable need to try and shove "storytelling" into what should be a blazing, innovative sprint, just ends up making their Lucha matches feel the same as their heavyweight matches.  If a wrestler doesn't have size going for them but they can do crazy athletic stuff, let 'em do the crazy athletic stuff without forcing them to emulate the big guy formula.  It's like when Steve Austin went to Vince and said "Look, I'm not 6'10", I'm a medium-size guy with black trunks and boots, if you don't let me do what I'm good at, I'm not gonna stand out among a roster of 6'10" guys, am I?"  This match was a bunch of WWE "selling" punctuated by the occasional Lucha spot.  Escobar won after a Canadian Destroyer (which Dragon Lee stood up from, weird how the anti-AEW crowd didn't get pissed at that), followed by a Phantom Driver.  **1/4

A match that was actually pretty entertaining but had no heat at all, Rhea Ripley vs. Zoey Stark was next.  Zoey got a fair amount of offense and hers seemed more crisp and explosive to me than Dragon Lee's.  Stark hit some of her big moves but Ripley was too dominant and finished her off with a headbutt and the Riptide.  In front of a hot crowd (and if Stark had been positioned as a credible threat) this would've been much better, but it was still ok.  **3/4

The main event was the men's WarGames match, and like the women's version it was....fine.  The heels had the man advantage so at least there was that.  Randy Orton's whereabouts were an ongoing "mystery" as no one was sure if he'd even show up.  Finn and Seth started things off with some energetic exchanges, then JD McDonough came in and the two Irish fellas beat Seth down with kendo sticks (fucking hell with the kendo sticks).  Jey Uso evened things up, the babyfaces took control, Damian Priest came in next and beat up the two babyfaces with a telescoping baton.  Sami Zayn was next and beat people up with a steel pipe that was apparently part of the cage.  Drew McIntyre came in and cleaned house for a little while until Jey and Sami double teamed him.  Cody was next and brought in a bullrope as a salute to Dusty, and he and Seth clotheslined heels with it.  Dominik Mysterio was the final heel but he quickly got ganged up on.  The clock ticked to Cody's final partner but no one showed up.  Rhea Ripley ran down with Priest's briefcase and tried to have Priest cash in on Seth.  But Randy Orton's music hit, and he appeared, looking absolutely JACKED.  Orton hit powerslams on people and the babyfaces all hit draping DDTs.  Orton and Jey had a staredown since The Bloodline kayfabe injured Orton 18 months ago.  But Jey saved Orton from a Priest attack and all was well.  Everyone hit finishers and then the babyfaces cut off JD from escaping and tossed him down to Orton for a huge RKO.  Cody finished him with a CrossRhodes to end the match.  Slightly more memorable than the women's match.  ****

Then Punk's music hit, the Chicago crowd went apeshit, Punk posed with some fans.  The end.

This show would've been so much more enjoyable as an actual Survivor Series.

Best Match: Men's WarGames
Worst Match: Dragon Lee vs. Santos Escobar
What I'd Change: Uh, now eventually you do plan to have SURVIVOR SERIES, on your- on your Survivor Series PPV, right?  Hello?  Yes?
Most Disappointing Match: Lee vs. Santos.  Most disappointing of all is Phil Brooks going back to the, *checks notes*, ah yes "the place that made me sick."
Most Pleasant Surprise: Eh?
Overall Rating: 7.5/10
Better than WrestleMania, Royal Rumble or SummerSlam?: No, about the same, and not really.

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