Previously on the Best and Worst of Survivor Series: Raw and Smackdown battled over t-shirt color supremacy and one of the best workers in the world managed to get a watchable, if not very good, match with Brock Lesnar. Crazy how much things change in a year. Just like NXT TakeOver!
If you haven’t watched Survivor Series yet, you can do that here. Remember that With Spandex is on Twitter, so follow it. Follow us on Twitter and like us on Facebook. You can also follow me on Twitter. BUY THE SHIRT.
One more thing: Hit those share buttons! Spread the word about the column on Facebook, Twitter and whatever else you use. Be sure to leave us a comment in our comment section below as well. Let’s talk about wrestling a lot when it’s good!
Here’s the Best and Worst of WWE Survivor Series, originally aired on November 18, 2018.
The Worst Part Of Survivor Series Is The Survivor Series Matches
From last year’s column:
Every Survivor Series match has some of the same problems, and I write about it every year. The big one is that they’re elimination matches, but nobody’s teammates are interested in helping them break up pins. You can be down 5-to-2 and you’ll just stand there watching your one remaining opponent get pinned. It never makes sense, especially when guys are diving in at the last second all desperate to break up pins in regular tag matches. Again, if they were fighting for literally any actual reason, it would’ve informed their need to urgently help their own teammates, and the entire show would’ve been better for it.
The build was a little better this year — Becky Lynch’s personal invasion of Raw and “Austin 3:16 moment” was certainly a step up from 2017’s weird Civil War and “under siege” motif — but the matches “for brand supremacy” still didn’t accomplish much beyond advancing their own show’s beefs and stories. In the opening women’s Survivor Series match, Nia Jax shoves her teammate off the top rope and causes her to be eliminated. In the men’s match, Drew McIntyre and Braun Strowman are in each other’s faces the entire time and punching each other, Finn Bálor takes a cheap shot at Drew, Baron Corbin jumps Strowman after he eliminated four guys in a row to win the match for Raw, and so on. Smackdown’s team is all about Miz screwing around with his teammates and putting them in danger. It’s brand vs. brand but nobody seems to care about their brand, or have a REASON to care about the brand, other than they were given ugly matching t-shirts on their way to the ring.
What I’m getting at is that Survivor Series matches built on personal feuds are great. You’d have Team Hulk Hogan vs. Team Andre the Giant stemming from issues at WrestleMania 3, in a cool way to bring in some new faces and advance your top feud. Survivor Series matches built on “which of our two identical shows with talent we often share between us are better” don’t have anything at stake. It’s like a 3-hour Battle Of The Network Stars. It wasn’t Hogan and Andre being on the same “Team WWF Superstars” or whatever and causing each other to lose a match. Nobody on Smackdown really had anything to do with anybody on Raw, beyond Becky and Ronda Rousey, and that one hot angle got affected by injury. It had heat, because it was compelling, and they have a real rivalry going. It’s not, “this guy’s a champion, he should fight the equivalent champion from the other show, because brands.” I forever give no shits about Mountain Dew vs. Mello Yello, guys.
Best: Turning Positives Into Negatives
A lot beyond the general malaise of Survivor Series elimination match booking went into the opener being flat. Firstly, Naomi got a big reaction for doing one (1) move and was quickly eliminated by the worst person in the match. Secondly, the substitution of Bayley and Sasha Banks for Ruby Riott and Natalya. While it’s a net gain from a talent perspective, the entire angle on Monday was that Alexa Bliss didn’t want Bayley or Sasha on her team, so she made them fight each other to “earn a spot” only to jump them and say they never had a shot. Then she decided to add Natalya to the same team as Ruby Riott, despite Riott just breaking Natalya’s dead dad sunglasses and attacking her 3-on-1. So of course THEY get into a fight, which means Sasha and Bayley get subbed in anyway. So why did we do any of that? Couldn’t they have just done a Natalya/Ruby feud and had Sasha and Bayley on the team? It’s like Raw doesn’t even have anything to do with the Raw Survivor Series team.
To voice a positive, though, you’ve got to love that heat Nia Jax is getting now. It sucks (out loud) that she’s getting heat for fucking up and hurting someone instead of anything she did intentionally as a performer or character, but it’s there, so you might as well make lemons into lemonade, right? Having Nia lounge around on the ring apron the entire match, push her own teammate off the top rope into an elimination for no reason, pop in at the end to eliminate ASUKA of all people, then walk around smirking pointing to her fist is prime-time shithead. The best thing you can do now is make some money off the happenstance, emphasize Jax’s worst qualities heading into her championship match with Ronda Rousey, and keep her at peak awful until The Man comes around at Royal Rumble and breaks every bone in her hand. Like, imagine the pop if Lynch shows up in the Royal Rumble, tosses Jax, and sits up on the ropes looking at an imaginary watch like she’s Stone Cold.
“What if Becky were here doing this instead” was a running theme for the night. I love that she’s so on right now that when she’s off-screen, all the other characters (and fans) are asking, “where’s Becky?”
Best: Braun Strowman Defeats The Best Wrestler In The World
A lot of people were dumping on the Raw vs. Smackdown men’s Survivor Series match, but I really enjoyed watching it. Looking back it’s objectively total crap, but it’s that very watchable, character-based total crap WWE does really well sometimes. Like, for as bad as Samoa Joe getting eliminated at the very beginning of the match was — and it was — I got a kick out of The Miz using Shane McMahon’s increasingly deteriorating self as a weapon like Finlay used to use Hornswoggle. Miz actively undermining his entire team and then getting mad when they get their asses kicked is good character work.
I’m not sure this is enough to get me back on the Braun Strowman train, since they’ve worked overtime nerfing him as a heel and in his Brock Lesnar matches, but this was a good start. The reversal into a powerslam on Jeff Hardy was awesome, and the counter to Rey Mysterio where he almost lost him and just brute-forced him up anyway was even better.
I would very much like to be into cool, comically-unrealistic powerhouse yokel Braun Strowman instead of “Dolph Ziggler’s second most threatening giant friend.” I also wish there was more to say about the Raw vs. Smackdown matches than, “they did a decent job of advancing some stories from Raw and Smackdown.”
Also, Hey WWE, You Can’t Have More Than One ‘Sole’ Survivor
Math is hard.
For An Illustration Of How Meaningless These Matches Are
By the end of the show, the announce team was talking about a 6-0 “sweep” for Raw over Smackdown at Survivor Series, completely ignoring the fact that Smackdown actually did win a match; they won the tag team Survivor Series match on the pre-show, and while it’s not technically “on Survivor Series,” it was certainly AT Survivor Series, and an announced Raw vs. Smackdown match they watched like three hours ago.
That’s how much the Raw vs. Smackdown matches mean. A few hours later, even the guys WWE pays to sit five feet from the ring and talk about what they’re seeing don’t remember what happened.
Best: The Nakamura Match We’ve Grown To Expect
From our predictions for Survivor Series:
If the 75 matches with AJ Styles taught us anything, it’s that the match result will be, “Nakamura and Rollins wrestle the beginning of a really great 30 minute New Japan match, then go to a crummy WWE finish at the 12-minute mark instead of doing the rest of it.” The pessimistic part of my brain says this is going to be another, “it was very good, but not as good as it should’ve been,” match. The optimistic side says that if I type the pessimistic prediction, that energy will get to Seth Rollins and he’ll weave hay into gold again.
I think the result landed somewhere between optimism and pessimism. I liked it more than any of the Styles matches, probably because I prefer Rollins’ work to Styles’, but aside from a hot finishing sequence of counters, it didn’t do much to stick in my brain. To put it in the least insulting way I can, it was a match pitting a legit best in the world contender in Rollins against one of the best in the world from a few years ago, with no story constraints holding them down (like Nak/Styles) and plenty of time … and it was the fourth best match on the show. And not in that TakeOver way where everything’s sort of equally great and better or worse based on your personal taste, it was just not anywhere near as good as Ali/Murphy, Rousey/Flair, or Bryan/Lesnar.
And that’s fine. It was still good. I was talking to Bill Hanstock during the match about why Nakamura’s main roster stuff never delivers in the way puro dorks like me want it to, and aside from all the normal reasons like context and intent and promotional style, we’re probably just expecting too much out of a nearly 40-year old Nakamura in the States. He’s doing great work, but it’s not him and Ibushi at Wrestle Kingdom so we’re underwhelmed. Nakamura matches are like new Star Wars movies in that way. They do Force Awakens, it’s too much like Star Wars. They go out of the box for Last Jedi, it’s not enough like Star Wars.
Let’s just love him for the time we’ve got him, and appreciate his love of a fine Captain EO jumpsuit:
Best: Men Are From Lars
I was really hoping he was going to show up and help Bryan beat Lesnar. Anyway, please enjoy the tense Braun Strowman and Lars Sullivan standoff while everyone is is knocked down in the Royal Rumble!
This Year’s Worst Couple Of Minutes Of Pay-Per-View Time
You know, I could spend a lot of emotional currency writing about how this match involved TMZ rapper real1 trying to “take over” Survivor Series from the crowd and got thrown out for being a depressing idiot and ended with Drake Maverick causing a distraction by pissing his britches, but do you even want to read about it?
The only enjoyment I got out of this was Hanstock trying to explain that Drake peed his pants tactically, humiliating himself via a worked crotch pump so the Authors of Pain could capitalize on a distraction. I hope “tactical pissing” becomes his gimmick. Like when Stacy would get up on the apron and show people her butt, but urolagnial.
As for Enzo, I want to see him try that shit at a Dragon Gate show just to watch PAC leap onto him from the ring like a goddamn panther and leave him a cotton candy and cigarette water-flavored stain on the Edion Arena Osaka floor.
Best: Whoever Gave The Cruiserweights A Spot On The Main Card And Time To Work
Aside from the assassination of Ronda Rousey by the coward Charlotte Flair, the biggest and best surprise of Survivor Series is that the Cruiserweight Champion got a spot on the main card instead of the pre-show, and that the 205 Live guys got almost 13 minutes to work. It’s such a good idea, and such a step in the right direction. When the match started, nobody in the crowd cared. About halfway through, they were chanting “this is awesome” and “205.” That’s the magic of wrestling. The physical action in the ring can make a disaffected audience care, if it’s mindful of the audience it’s performing in front of.
Buddy Murphy and Mustafa Ali are probably the #1 and #2 most underrated guys in WWE, so giving them that classic WCW Malenko/Jericho spot in the middle of a show full of meaningless tag matches made it feel special. They worked their asses off, too. It felt like it should’ve been a part of NXT TakeOver instead of Survivor Series, down to the striking counter to a diving or springboard move to set up the finish. That and apron bumps are NXT’s bread and butter right now. If you missed it, here’s Buddy sending Ali’s soul to the fuckin’ Quantum Realm.
I hope everyone important backstage saw how good this was and use it as an excuse to give us some main show 205 Live Cruiserweight Championship matches going forward. The talent deserves it, and the fans deserve the additional exposure to the product to encourage them to love it. It’s the same value as putting an NXT Women’s Championship match on Evolution. Instead of showing commercials for the shit people have already tuned in to see, how about shining some casual light on these little side projects and developmental brands that people are increasingly losing their shit over? Use that good will to mold your broader product into something everyone can get excited about, and not just watch out of habit!
Best: Ronda Rousey Gets Got
I didn’t think Charlotte Flair could properly coast on the momentum of the Becky Lynch vs. Ronda Rousey beef as a substitute for The Man, but holy shit, she was a substitute for the man.
Before I talk about that glorious beatdown, there’s a lot to love about this match. One, Ronda Rousey finally got real wrestling gear. It only took her eight months! Two, more than anything else on the show (including Lesnar vs. Bryan), it felt like a fight. Rousey’s persona and moveset make her a really unusual and different opponent in a division where even the good wrestling can seem a little stylized and predictable, so watching her break out simple but uncommon counters to things and always try to push Charlotte into her style of wrestling to control her is great. Charlotte might be the best woman in the company at adapting to her opponent’s strengths, which is why (1) it was such a bummer everything between the Asuka WrestleMania match and the Last Woman Standing at Evolution felt like she was working at 25% maximum effort, and (2) having her put her fingers in her ears and sing Doo Wah Diddy Diddy while crowd ate her alive and the announcers put her over as the face to Becky Lynch’s heel was so confusing and depressing.
Like the Asuka match, the intensity was steady and built throughout the match. That’s crucial here, because the core story is that nothing Charlotte does can put Ronda away, and Ronda keeps coming up with counters and gaining the advantage. It’s the same issue she faced with Becky Lynch. She’d hit Becky with everything, but couldn’t keep her down. The only time she kept her down was Naturally Selecting her when she wasn’t paying attention in that triple threat that started everything. Once Charlotte realizes she’s not going to win the match and her momentum’s died down, she takes a shortcut, produces two kendo sticks from out of thin air, and whacks Ronda in the stomach.
Ronda’s Ken Shamrock blood in the match would’ve been lame if it didn’t get the entirety of that post-match beatdown to really bring it home. Holy CRAP was it great. Charlotte decides that one shot to the stomach isn’t enough, and just hammer-blows Ronda with it until it shatters. Then she rolls her in the ring and beats her down with the other one.
That continues to escalate, and includes:
- Charlotte trying to kill Ronda with a chair and being forced out of the ring, just to slide back in and Naturally Select her onto it
- Charlotte beating up four referees by herself because they tried to stop her attempted murder
- a full Pillmanizing of Ronda Rousey’s neck with a steel chair
- “Thank You Charlotte” chants
- Rousey being so physically destroyed that she looks like she lost another UFC fight
- the crowd being so pro-Becky Lynch that they turned Ronda Rousey heel and Charlotte Flair into so MUCH of a heel that she came around to being a face again
The only thing missing was Shayna Baszler’s music hitting and the Queen of Spades running out to make the save, but we have time for that. They managed to take the hottest angle in wrestling, accidentally ruin it, then purposefully built it back up and made it the hottest thing going again. I fully agree with the “na na na hey hey hey goodbye” chants because Becky and Charlotte greater than, but stepping outside of a purely fan perspective for a second, huge-as-shit shout-out and all the plus-ones to Ronda Rousey for taking that beating like a champ. She got SHIT-KICKED.
That’s how you build a feud. Now we’ve got Becky positioned against Rousey with Charlotte as her muscle. Everyone in the world wants to see Rousey vs. Lynch, but now I think we all want to see Rousey vs. Flair again. Garbage-ass personality and promos aside, Rousey’s doing for the popularity and relevance of WWE women’s wrestling what they always wanted those Brock Lesnar UFC runs to do for the men.
Best: Daniel Bryan Died So The American Dragon Could Live
Daniel Bryan is my favorite wrestler of all time. It’s not a secret. I have new current favorites that come and go (and get called up, and pissed on more than Drake Maverick’s pants), but my consistent favorite since like 2002 has been Bryan. Last night at Survivor Series, I got to see what elevates him above everyone else as a performer: his ability to control a crowd, while never making it obvious.
The Bryan/Lesnar match had the same structure as Lesnar/Styles. Lesnar/Styles opened with what appeared to be a complete squash. Lesnar tossed him around like a joke, but Styles was able to more or less “rope-a-dope” him, get him tired, and capitalize. Bryan/Lesnar was that turned up to extremes. From the first German suplex, they knew everyone in the building would be worried for Bryan. It made his black tights and avoidance of the Yes chants irrelevant. Storylines didn’t matter now. We just wanted Bryan to be okay. Lesnar, on the other hand, wanted to slowly walk around the ring and dump Bryan on his head over and over. It was EXPERT boring Brock Lesnar. It’s all on purpose. When the crowd chants “same old shit,” Heyman just holds up the Universal Championship and makes everyone look at it. It “fixes” our temporary understanding of Bryan’s alignment, establishes that Lesnar is very much the heel of the match, and gets heel heat based on what modern fans will boo someone for: not entertaining them.
Watch the Fan Nation video above and see what I’m talking about. Everyone in the crowd and on the Internet were ready to give up on the match. We were just sitting there in the crowd feeling nervous and bad that Bryan was getting beaten so badly. It felt like “punishment” or whatever. We jump to those dumb conclusions a lot as fans. And then the ref gets bumped, and the very next motion is Bryan kicking Lesnar in the dick. It’s like a transformer exploded in the center of the building. WAVES of roaring cheers. In one kick and one knee, at the exact right time for the exact right reason, maestro Daniel Bryan took an impossibility in the minds of everyone in the building — Daniel Bryan being able to beat Brock Lesnar in the current WWE ecosystem, with Bryan having just made a heel turn, and the match only having one show and five days of build — into a possibility.
The best moment of the entire show happens in this match. During his attack, Bryan slams Lesnar’s knee into the post. He starts hitting him with those running dropkicks in the corner, but he goes to the well too many times and is caught in an F-5. It’s the Lesnar finish we always expect. Someone’s going to start getting some momentum, and he’s just going to scoop them up and F-5 them to death. Except this time, Lesnar’s leg buckles because of the previous limb work, and Bryan’s able to transition seamlessly into a Yes Lock. He’s not going to win. We KNOW he’s not going to win. But when that happens, WE KNOW HE’S GOING TO WIN. COME ON, BRYAN, END HIM.
That’s pro wrestling at its best; when it understands an entire lifetime of its audiences’s expectations, plays to them, plays with them, and turns cynics into believers. Daniel Bryan does that better than anybody in the business, and I’m so unbelievably grateful that he’s well enough and strong enough to keep doing what he loves in front of me.
And hey, big ups to Lesnar for this match as well. Lesnar is one of the best sells in wrestling, which is part of why it’s so frustrating that he’s not asked to do it more often. The past three Survivor Series, he’s put himself out there to get someone else over. He got squashed by Goldberg. He put on his worker boots for AJ Styles. He had the Daniel Bryan vs. Brock Lesnar match I’ve been wanting to see for years, when he could’ve just done some Germans and bailed.
Best: Top 10 Comments Of The Night
He’s just a little suplexed. He’s still good! He’s still good!
Heel Daniel Bryan is an air guitar session short of being every member of Undisputed Era rolled into one.
Brock looks like Bob Backlund after he took super soldier serum.
Becky did the Dragonball Ginyu Body Switch on Charlotte.
Well now that Murphy has elevated the Cruiserweights to the main show, it’s safe to say which member of BAMF was the Wesley Blake.
Glad to meet the Portugal team, can’t wait for them to talk about The Man
The Real Birdman
Shinsuke showing up looking like Violet Beauregarde
all hail my top three Smackdown babyfaces, all of whom are unhinged psychopaths
buddy you haven’t been watching the show for the last few years if you think Ambrose will ever run out of things to hide behind
That’s it for Survivor Series. I wouldn’t recommend any of the “Survivor Series” parts, really, but the two main events plus Ali and Murphy plus Nakamura and Rollins makes it a must-watch. Not to mention the spectacular MMA vs. Pro Wres schadenfreude.
Make sure to drop down into the comments to let us know what you thought of the show, and share the column around on your social media things to help us out. Thanks for reading, as always. Join us tomorrow for the Best and Worst of Raw, which will hopefully be three hours of someone Pillmanizing Rousey every time she mentions millennials, and Wednesday for the Best and Worst of Smackdown, in which Becky Lynch begins her authoritarian rule.