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And now, the Best and Worst of WWE Survivor Series 2016.
Worst: Burned At The Stakes
A major problem for a lot of people with the build to and presentation of Survivor Series is that there were three Raw vs. Smackdown traditional Survivor Series elimination matches, but there were no stakes. Beating the other team in a match or winning the best of the three matches didn’t win you anything. No home-field branding advantage at WrestleMania. No #30 spot in the Royal Rumble. No championships, no TV time, no talent. Not even a Bragging Rights trophy. They’re just wrestling to prove which show is “better,” which is so vague and meaningless that even the characters on screen struggle to define it. Stephanie McMahon’s like, “we have to BEAT Smackdown Live and my brother Shane!” and you’re like “…and?”
For me, there were two dealbreaker problems with Survivor Series. One is in how the actual Survivor Series elimination matches were booked, which we’ll get to in a minute. The other is that on a show built on a foundation of having no observable stakes, the two matches that did have game-changing stakes accomplished nothing, changed nothing and ended with audible, somehow smellable fart noises.
The first of these is The Miz vs. Sami Zayn for the Intercontinental Championship. It’s Raw (Zayn) vs. Smackdown (Miz), with the stipulation that if Zayn can win the Intercontinental Championship, the IC title leaves Smackdown and goes to Raw. This was originally supposed to be Zayn vs. Intercontinental Champion Dolph Ziggler, but Ziggler is a human Price Is Right loser horn and lost the belt on Tuesday. So Miz is a transitional champion so we don’t have to do face vs. face at Survivor Series, and the only reason we’re introducing these stipulations because we want to shake things up and move some people around, right?
No, none of that is right.
Instead of switching the belt to Zayn or even giving us an actual non-weekly show finish to a high stakes championship match, Zayn loses to a distraction roll-up after Maryse rings the bell when she shouldn’t have. So we get a thing we’ve seen before (mistimed bell ringing) plus a thing we’ve seen more times than I’ve seen my own reflection in a mirror (distraction roll-ups) to make the pre-match stipulations irrelevant, and nobody like, steps in to complain about Maryse openly cheating and ruining the match in front of everyone. Like, where’s Stephanie McMahon and Mick Foley to argue with the WWE umps about what happened? Do they not actually give a shit about the Intercontinental Championship coming to Raw? Are they more worried about what will happen in the Raw vs. Smackdown matches where they win NOTHING?
Miz and Zayn did some good work — this was probably the best actual match on the show, before the finish — but it doesn’t matter. Raw doesn’t care about Zayn, and Miz just kinda restarts his feud about how Smackdown doesn’t care about him. Sami’s a loser, and Miz is a winner who doesn’t actually win and gets treated like a loser. And … we’re doing this on purpose.
The second match with stakes is Brian Kendrick vs. Kalisto for the Cruiserweight Championship. It’s Raw (Kendrick) vs. Smackdown (Kalisto), with the stipulation that if Kalisto can win the Cruiserweight Championship, the cruiserweight belt and the entire cruiserweight division come to Smackdown. The cruisers are dead in the standing water that is Raw, so a move to Smackdown where creative puts a lot of effort into making talent that isn’t great seem cool and engaging would be a godsend. Plus, they just announced 205 Live (aka 106 and La Parka), a dedicated cruiserweight show set to air immediately after Smackdown. It makes perfect sense to switch the belt, and the only reason we’re introducing these stipulations because we want to shake things up and move some people around, right?
No, none of that is right.
Instead of switching the belt to Kalisto, moving over an entire phalanx of desperate dudes into a context that might better appreciate their work and following through with a layup of cross-promotion for your new TV show, WWE chooses to have Kendrick and Kalisto have a heatless “epic” in front of a crowd that absolutely does not give half a shit until BARON CORBIN interferes and the match ends in a DQ. They chose to tell a story half the audience doesn’t even realize is still happening instead of recontextualizing and empowering the future of an entire division.
So now Brian Kendrick is still the Cruiserweight Champion, Raw is still suck with a bunch of cruiserweights it doesn’t know what to do with, Smackdown is followed by a technically Raw-branded or at least Raw-associated TV show and Kalisto gets to continue a feud nobody liked instead of being the new Rey Mysterio in a division fucking built for him. Unbelievable.
I know this can read like, “they didn’t book the show how I’d book it, so I’m unhappy,” but that’s not it. The point I want you to get from this is that if you’re booking an entire show full of matches without stakes and give us two matches with stakes, you’ve got to follow through with at least one of them or it’s all been a bullshit waste of time. You could’ve done Kendrick vs. Perkins 11 and a Miz/Ziggler rematch with these same finishes and it would’ve been fine. I mean, it would’ve been garbage, but it would’ve been fine.
Worst: The Women Get Under
So, the problem with Survivor Series matches.
As we saw from The Revival vs. DIY at NXT TakeOver: Toronto — a Best and Worst of that is coming on Wednesday, so look out for it — tag team wrestling is about friendship. And while I don’t expect a squad of rivals on generic Raw and Smackdown sides to rep their team like Scott Dawson, I’d like to know why so many WWE Survivor Series matches feature people standing on the apron doing goddamn nothing while their partners get pinned. Nobody’s trying to help. They don’t even usually jump in to break up pins until it’s down to 2-on-1 or whatever. People get hit with finishers or transitional moves and get pinned like it’s nothing with nobody trying to prevent it, and we miss so many opportunities for storytelling moments, character growth, audience communication, whatever. Nobody gets to think or feel anything about the match because you’re just burning through it, and even the people in the ring don’t care.
The first example of this is the women’s Survivor Series match, which doesn’t start involving teamwork of any kind until it’s 3-on-2. Naomi loses by count-out when there are a minimum of three other people on her team standing there doing nothing, when they could be, I don’t know, helping her not get counted out. Charlotte pins two people with big boots. Nia Jax taps out to a Disarmer like it’s nothing after a few seconds, which is pretty much the least Nia Jax thing imaginable. She just does it because she’s not “Nia Jax,” she’s Human #4 in WWE’s interchangable bullshit Survivor Series matching booking plan #3.
The worst part is that WWE will often hustle through these moments to get to a big finish, even if the finish doesn’t work. Here, the match comes down to Charlotte and Bayley vs. Becky Lynch. Instead of getting a Roman Reigns moment where she fights against two people for way longer than anyone would expect (to, you know, make her look like she’s got fighting spirit and cares about what’s happening), Becky just gets hit with a finish from the other babyface and gets pinned to no reaction. So Becky goes out like a chump, Bayley gets nothing from pinning someone everyone likes, and then Charlotte just beats up Bayley anyway to make it worse. Charlotte doesn’t get any heel heat, because Bayley didn’t get any face heat. You’re just doing a Raw angle you could’ve done literally anywhere at any time, and you sacrificed an entire Survivor Series match with 11 women in it to get there.
Are you sensing a pattern here?
Best/Worst: Tag, You’re Not It
If you want another example of WWE hustling through their own booking, check out the beginning of the Raw vs. Smackdown tag team Survivor Series match. There are too many people in the ring, so Fandango gets pinned by the New Day like 10 seconds into the match. Tyler Breeze never even steps through the ropes. We’re given a few seconds to react to that, and then an Uso pops in, superkicks Kofi Kingston and pins him, eliminating New Day. So in the first maybe 30 seconds of a 20+-person Raw vs. Smackdown Survivor Series showdown for brand supremacy, we eliminate 5 guys.
I think the most frustrating part of the tag match for me is how little American Alpha got to shine, despite being the most desperately wanted and over team in the match. You know a team’s great when they’ve got “American” in the name and get cheered over everybody in Canada. Especially when you’ve got pander-ass Enzo Amore in Drake gear and Big Cass trying to get over on the back of Tim Horton. Just once I want to see a Canadian babyface wrestler that’s like, “we’re in the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA tonight, baby, we’re gonna get DUNKIN DONUTS and watch THE BIG BANG THEORYYYYY.”
At the same time, my favorite part of the match was that American Alpha GOT to shine, despite getting like 45 seconds in which to do so. Chad Gable throwing Cesaro around like a baby was the GREATEST, as was their belly-to-belly suplex plancha and their Steiner Brothers tribute doomsday bulldog. If Jason Jordan starts dropping people with a Steiner Screwdriver, I’m somehow even more in than I am now.
This match ultimately had the same problem as the women’s match, with teammates just standing around doing nothing while their partners get pinned, and the match just being a mindless collection of fights until it gets down to the final numbers and gets real. Hell, most of the time they didn’t even do the thing where a guy gets pinned on the far side of the ring and his partners straddle the middle rope and peek their heads in, and the other team has to jog to the middle of the ring with their fists up like they’re playing defense. Most of the time Cass could’ve just reached down over the top rope and pulled people out of pins.
It’s worth noting that when the match comes down to Sheamus and Cesaro vs. the Brisc-use Brothers, it gets GREAT. Sheamus and Cesaro would be one of the best teams in the world if they could get over Raw’s one-note “they hate each other!” booking. The Usos continue to be a billion times better like this than they were before. I found myself wishing that this had just been Sheamus and Cesaro vs. the Usos for 20 minutes with some kind of actual stipulation involved, and that American Alpha had just stuck around and won the Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic. How they hell are they never gonna have their names on that trophy?
As a final note, the most damning thing I can say about the match is that you don’t even really need me to tell you who won, because it doesn’t matter.
Worst/Best: 800 Minutes Of Raw Vs. Smackdown
Finally we get to the men’s 5-on-5 Survivor Series elimination match, which at least has the Smackdown general manager involved and sets up the notion that if Raw loses, Stephanie McMahon’s gonna fire them all. So there’s … kinda stakes, right? And the Undertaker’s gonna be unhappy-ish if Smackdown doesn’t win, even though he hasn’t wrestled in the brand extension and doesn’t really do anything! Sure! Fine!
So here’s what I liked about the match, just to get a little positivity in here:
– The Shield reunion, obviously. They build up the story that Dean Ambrose can’t get along with anybody and just beats up AJ Styles during and after his own elimination. He’s completely selfish and unhinged. Roman Reigns and Seth Rollins have sorta made up on the Raw side. Ambrose is supposed to be against them. But once he gets eliminated, he (1) singularly hates AJ Styles and will do anything he can to hurt him, (2) knows that the only two people out of 10 who understand him are these frenemies on the Raw side, (3) knows Raw wants to eliminate Styles too, so they’re fundamentally on the same side, and (4) knows a Shield powerbomb through a table is the biggest murder death kill move in WWE and he can’t do it without them. Reigns and Rollins get it, so they help him get through security and they all send Styles to an early grave. Great stuff. I hope the thread continues, and we just have an uneasily aligned, not-brothers-but-willing-to-occasionally-team-up-and-help-each-other-out Shield across the brands.
– I also love that James Ellsworth and Braun Strowman finally got to play with their history. Strowman’s the only reason we know who Ellsworth is, so I like him kinda noticing Ellsworth finally and Ellsworth just instantly running from him in fear. I also like that it comes back later, with Ellsworth holding Strowman’s leg to get him counted out.
– The List being used as a weapon, and Jericho just angrily trying to put it back together.
– Randy Orton hitting another RKO for the ages on Seth Rollins, counting a frog splash. Rollins got crazy air on the splash, and Orton timed it perfectly. Nobody’s better at big moment RKOs than these two. I’d honestly be okay with them feuding non-stop until they ran out of stupid and wonderful ways for Orton to hold dude’s head while falling down. I also kinda dig the Orton/Wyatt story, which seems like it’s marching toward an inevitable and obvious conclusion, but is sorta engaging in that week-to-week kinda way. Orton needed a new perspective and approach to performing anyway, so I like this. Besides, Bray Wyatt would absolutely be a snake charmer, wouldn’t he?
– Speaking of Bray, Bray Wyatt and his Hobby Lobby hair won a match! On a pay-per-view! And it was important! Ish!
Now the less good stuff.
– Shane McMahon is dead. At some point during the match he hits a flying elbow through the announce table on Braun Strowman and is blown the hell up for real. For some reason they don’t take him out of the match there. They keep him in, and he just kinda slows everyone down. That agonizingly builds to him trying to hit a coast-to-coast dropkick on Roman Reigns — the move he “made famous” according to Michael Cole, because Rob Van Dam doesn’t exist — and getting speared. But instead of like, getting speared in the gut and being knocked backwards, he gets awkwardly caught in the armpit, has his entire ribcage crushed and everybody goes into the mat as gruesomely as possible. Roman DDTs himself so hard I thought he’d broken his neck, and Shane hits the ground looking like Gerald from Finding Dory. He looks like he got his soul removed. The entire time the announcers are like, “Shane McMahon is the MVP! Shane McMahon is the best person on the team!” It was a little much.
– Kevin Owens goes out like a total chump again. He gets eliminated early for attacking his opponent with a clipboard. But then like 20 minutes later people are going through tables, tagging in and out however they want, interfering, whatever. But yeah, no, let’s get our Universal Champion out of here as quickly as possible because he swatted at somebody with a thin sheet of polystyrene.
The rest of it, man. I don’t even know. I don’t know how to break it down. Stuff is just happening everywhere, and none of it really matters. Raw is feuding with Raw and Smackdown’s feuding with Smackdown, they’re helping each other out and cheating and just kinda milling around. Most of the match you don’t remember who’s been eliminated, because most of the team has spent the past 10 minutes lying around on the ground outside. Bray Wyatt and Randy Orton win, so … is Raw fired? Is Stephanie gonna follow through with firing her four top stars and Braun Strowman because they lost a match and prevented her from winning a no-prize?
There’s a lot to enjoy, and a lot to stand back with your arms on your head and say, “the fuck just happened?”
Speaking of that feeling, here’s the entire main event, minus one move.
Best/Worst: Hahaha What
That’s the main event. That’s “fantasy warfare.” A match so fast you can’t even recreate it in WWE 2K17, because they won’t let you win that quickly. Goldberg shoves Lesnar on his ass, hits two spears and Jackhammers him for an 87 second victory.
Depending on your point of view, you either loved it, or you didn’t. Very little in-between.
On the plus side, Hallelujah, WCW finally got a real victory. I know Goldberg doesn’t really represent WCW anymore, but after seeing Sting get nerfed at WrestleMania and transitional-moved into retirement against Seth Rollins, it’s kinda nice to see a guy who was on my team in 1997 actually do something. It was a major nostalgia moment, for sure.
Also, it was a hell of a surprise. I’m not sure any of us expected WCW Goldberg to show up, especially not Lesnar. And even though Goldberg seriously has nothing left to prove anymore, having gone up 2-0 on Lesnar over a 12 year period and beating him in less than a minute and a half, a rematch would finally give Lesnar a fire under his ass. Something he’s needed for … years, really. He hasn’t been motivated to do anything, really, in a while. He looked like the world’s biggest goober loser here, something Brock’s never ever been, so maybe we can get a true conqueror beast who wants to cause piss and shit running down your leg instead of just expecting it. And it can be Goldberg’s turn to be overconfident And, you know, Bill gets another few months to get in ring shape so he doesn’t throw out his shoulder running into security guards.
On the negative side … holy shit. They spent two years building up Brock Lesnar as the ultimate wrestler, had him end the Undertaker’s WrestleMania streak, trounce John Cena in a way that’s never been done before or since and leave Randy Orton in a pool of his own blood just to job him out to a retired 50-year old who hasn’t wrestled in 12 years in 90 seconds. It’s the first time Lesnar’s been pinned since WRESTLEMANIA 29. Instead of giving that to any of these new, younger stars they’re trying to validate … these new, younger stars they keep saying don’t try hard enough to grab brass rings, instead of giving any of these people the world’s biggest rub by having them fight hard to defeat the undefeatable, ultimate badass multi-sport legitimate pro wrestling monster, they have them dick around with each other in the mid-card and let Goldberg beat Brock so he can impress his kid.
And that’s where we leave it. It was a shocker, for sure. A great moment. A vindication of WCW, in a way. And it also happened for seemingly the worst reasons, playing on the most powerful character in the company being absolutely unmotivated by anything in the actual company. The Universal Champion got knocked out of a match early for attacking somebody with a clipboard. The WWE Champion got pinned. The Tag Team Champions got eliminated in seconds. The IC title and Cruiserweight title matches ended with DQs and wife interference. Everybody on the roster kinda looked like a stupid asshole, but at least the downloadable pre-order superstar from the video game looked great, right? And his pre-teen seemed mildly interested in it. So … it’s a win?
I don’t know. Let’s get to the Royal Rumble without getting caught in a bear trap or whatever.
Best: Top 10 Comments Of The Night
The unexpected competitor wins easily, and half of you say you saw it coming, while the other half say it isn’t so bad. This comment thread reminds me of something, I just can’t quite put my finger on it
Baron Von Raschke
State of SmackDown:
Our Commissioner: Dead
Our Top Face: Dead & Covered in Pizza
Our Champion: Dead by triple powerbomb
Our #1 Contender: Helped triple powerbomb Our Champion
Our Women’s Division: Crushed
Our Tag Team Division: Crushed
Our I-C Champ: A cowardly heel with a hot wife
Our Cruiserweights: NOT our cruiserweights thanks to Corbin
Our Announce Team: Caught Hell from Byron Saxton
Our Swamp Hillbilly Cult Leader & his Snakeman: Stronger than EVER
and we are still a better show than RAW.
To be fair timing the pin kickout in these WWE2K games is a bitchberg.
Brilliant move by WWE. Make the match so terrible you have to run out & buy the videogame to re-create what it should have been
Beige Lunatics, King of String Style
That would’ve been the greatest match I’ve ever seen if Goldberg had done it to Reigns.
Isotopes win a game
Isotopes win a game
Who needs Westworld? At Survivor Series, two men are trying to discover whether or not Wyatt is actually a mastermind and a threat, or if he’s just a creation of an out of touch 70 year old man.
Roman is a corporate heel who self-identifies as an underdog babyface and we need to be supportive of that, guys.
raw roster: uh, just so we’ll know, who’s the enemy?
stephanie: a valid question! we know nothing about them, their language, their history or what they look like. but we can assume this: they stand for everything we don’t stand for. also they told me you guys look like dorks.
raw roster: they look like dorks!
“And this is Big Cass and hes 6 foot 9 which is pretty tall and well above the average male height but we lie about it and say hes 7 feet tall which makes him seem kinda insecure actually” was rejected in the writers room.
Thanks for reading, everybody. Sorry about the show! Let us know what you thought in the comments section below, hit those share buttons and be back here for the Raw open discussion and report, which will probably attempt to validate everything I complained about in here. Or not! Because reasons!