Let’s start with a proclamation: not every big PPV needs to be four hours. Sunday night’s Survivor Series is nominally a Big Four special, and in recent WWE fashion, that means that it must be four hours long, no matter the card they’ve built up. This year, a nice twist not seen in some time, as WWE has a strong brand split to play off of; the problem is that the split occurred relatively recently, and so matches that could be fresh in a year are still not far enough in the rearview. That, and the general lack of stakes throughout the night, led to a night of exhibition in the truest sense, showcasing a lot of talent in a relatively short period of time, yet with no purpose outside of itself.
With the longest Survivor Series match in history and three multi-person elimination matches pretty much back-to-back, there was no way for four hours to feel fresh and vital; instead, around the nine o’clock Eastern hour, fans must have been wondering “how are we getting only two matches in two hours?” The answer was twofold: first, give an hour to a match for “brand bragging rights,” whatever that means, and second, make your main event a shooting star that fades with 30 minutes to go. Survivor Series has long felt like the most useless of Big Four PPVs, lacking the Royal Rumble’s signature match, SummerSlam’s summer party feel and WrestleMania’s everything, and Sunday’s offering didn’t help it become any more relevant. Storylines were advanced and a true WTF moment came to pass, but at the end of the day, Survivor Series could have been called Battleground and no one would know the difference.
5. The Shape of Title Changes Never to Come
In a night full of traditional multi-person elimination matches and a “dream match” of Olympian proportions, it’s important to remember that there were two title matches with actual stakes for both Raw and SmackDown Live. In both the Intercontinental and Cruiserweight title matches, if the challenger emerged victorious, the respective belt would transfer over to the other brand. All signs actually pointed to both belts switching sides, especially the under-205 belt (given that the cruisers are getting their own show that airs live after SmackDown, why not put them on that brand?). And yet, at the end of the night (really, the first half of the show), everything remained as it was.
The matches themselves were a lot of fun; Miz, Maryse and their ingenious creative team keep coming up with new ways to cheat and win, while Kalisto showed up to do good lucha things BIG TIME, only losing his chance at the belt by Teleporting Baron Corbin interference. Taken by themselves, these are fine results, but it’s a bit perplexing that both stipulations ended up being false flags. One of the appeals of cross-brand matches is the ability to shake things up colossally, so that WWE avoided both chances to do that is nothing short of disappointing, even if we could go to fun places afterwards. Corbin hating little people is a good thread for both Kalisto and SmackDown Live GM Daniel Bryan to play off of, and surely Sami Zayn is going to want revenge on Miz for getting cheated out of his first main roster gold (would anyone complain if the Skanking One was traded over to SD Live for a bag of peanuts and Apollo Crews’ catering slot?).
4. The Raw Women’s Division Is All That Matters (According to WWE)
Poor Becky Lynch. Back when the brand draft happened in July, the Lass Kicker was separated from two of the three other Four Horsewomen in order to helm her own division on the blue brand, a curious choice that left her as the clear star with no opponents. We figured reinforcements were on the way via Bayley, but then the Huggable One was signed to team red as well. The discrepancy in talent distribution showed during the women’s traditional Survivor Series match, as Becky (with some Natalya assists) carried her brand’s end of the bargain until running into the two-headed freight train that was Bayley and Charlotte.
It was always a losing fight, being a SmackDown Live female wrestler, because WWE clearly believes (and probably not incorrectly) that its stars are Charlotte, Sasha Banks and Bayley. Becky and Co. have managed to craft a fun division by virtue of better storytelling and direction, but you didn’t see them having the first ever women’s hell in a cell match, did you? It’s a shame, but at the end of the day, this was a solid showing for everyone involved, and that’s the most you can really ask for out of an elimination match of this magnitude. The Bayley and Charlotte story stuff after the match also made sense (although why didn’t Sasha come out and fight Charlotte?), so let’s not complain too much. It could have been worse…
3. Twenty People Enter, Only Four Truly Matter
…much worse. The tag team elimination match was completely worthless until the last 5 minutes, when the Usos and the team of Sheamus and Cesaro did their best to salvage a trainwreck. Before that glorious sprint to the finish, what we got was one of the Survivor Series matches of old, with people losing quickly to transition moves and a clear lack of effort from those who believe they were too good for the slot (*cough* don’t let the door hit you on the way back to the UpUpDownDown room, New Day. Actually, a parenthetical isn’t enough for the New Day here; why even have the tag champs in the match if they were going to lose in a minute? That slot would have been better used by even a goober team like Golden Truth, and you could raise the stakes by saying New Day would put its title up against the winners of the match. There were some cool and worthwhile spots before the end, lest we be unfair: Chad Gable continues to be the absolute best, flying like the most American of eagles into a pile of bodies, and The Club finally looked threatening after damn near a year of trying. And that ending sequence truly was something to behold, with the Usos and Sheamsaro throwing haymakers until the Unlikely Duo picked up the win. There have been more offensive Survivor Series matches in history, that’s for sure, but this fell more in line with the “get everyone on the card” fiascos of days past than a fun and creative way to use a talented roster.
2. The Cubs Win Survivor Series!
Have you ever wanted to see what a Fast and Furious movie would look like inside of a WWE wrestling ring? Aside from missing out on having The Rock involved, the men’s elimination match this year fit the bill. Way too much action that sometimes lost the thread of its own logic? Check. Both unintentional and intentional comedy to lighten the mood? Check. Goes on way too long but is still the most entertaining thing you’ve seen all month? Check plus. At almost an hour long, it was the longest Survivor Series match ever, and yet, no regrets here. From Braun Strowman’s unchaining from Bray Wyatt (a necessary step for Braun’s singles development), to The List costing both halves of JeriKO their spots, to Shane McMahon putting Strowman through a table with a vintage elbow drop to the outside, the moments came fast and heavy. And let’s not ignore the honest-to-goodness SHIELD MINI-REUNION to put AJ Styles through a table with the triple powerbomb. Now that all three Shield members are babyfaces (to varying extents), stuff like this feels awesome instead of logically inconsistent.
A small bit of congratulations must be given to WWE’s Cubs-in-wrestler-form, Bray Wyatt, who managed to notch a win in a Big 4 PPV. Bray winning an important match in 2016 is more shocking than the Chicago Cubs AND the Cleveland Cavaliers winning titles in the same year. Sure, it ended up with a three-on-one attack on Roman Reigns, but if we’re being serious, that’s like a singles match in terms of overpowered-ness. The bit of storytelling with Randy Orton sacrificing himself for Bray should lead somewhere interesting, and I can’t wait for the Luke Harper/Randy Orton tag titles run that we never got with Erick Rowan. All in all, this was the lone bright spot of the night, a true brand war that let nine of the most talented dudes in the company (plus Shane McMahon) go to town on each other and get some spots for their highlight reels. You can’t really ask for much more out of a match that won’t really matter come Monday (and Tuesday) night.
1. Surprises Do Not Equal Good Storytelling
Let’s get this out of the way: with no context, Goldberg coming in after over a decade away from WWE and whomping Brock Lesnar in under 90 seconds is a fantastic spectacle. It was a smart way of protecting Goldberg while he builds his cardio back up, and it gave us a legit “holy shit” moment that WWE fans hadn’t seen since…Brock himself beat the Streak almost 3 years ago. People are definitely talking about, and there’s value in that. However, there is context, and in the context of the Brock story they have been telling since that Streak busting night in New Orleans, this was one of the most incomprehensible booking decisions EVER, and a signifier for how badly WWE has dropped the ball in building its next superstar.
Everyone knows that the rub from beating the Streak was supposed to be passed on to Roman Reigns, but due to his middling (to say it nicely) fan reactions, the brass decided Roman wasn’t ready for that and kept Brock’s technically undefeated run since Wrestlemania 30 going. General thought was that either Roman would get another shot once the fans started supporting him, or another huge star-in-the-making would get the rub at a later date. The problem is that WWE hasn’t made a star to the level they need since John Cena. Part of that is because they’ve invested all their energy in Roman, and the other part is that its most popular guys all come from outside of the company (AJ Styles and Kevin Owens come to mind). Of course, beating Brock Lesnar (especially quickly) would elevate pretty much anyone of their choosing to that level, so taking a high-end guy who isn’t “there” yet and giving him the rub would instantly make him the star WWE wanted (you’re telling me Rusev wouldn’t take this opportunity and run with it?). Instead, though, WWE thought only of the short-term, deciding to take a long build and throw it out the window in order to shock.
No matter how good the moment, a 49-year-old Goldberg conquering the Beast Incarnate does nothing for the future of the company. You can try to talk yourself into the match story (Brock took him for granted and got counterpunched), but that same story works with a current roster member, rather than someone here for half a year at best. Hell, if you don’t trust any of the stars you built, give Samoa Joe (a veteran of the industry at the peak of his game in and out of the ring) this spot; you can tell the same overconfident Lesnar story, only to give the benefit to someone who will be around for years to come. What we got instead was two spears, a Jackhammer and a lot of questions about the vision of the creative team. Maybe this will go somewhere interesting; rumors immediately sprung up that Goldberg is signed for the Royal Rumble and surely WrestleMania has to be in the cards as well (never mind that a rematch with Lesnar doesn’t particularly excite; Goldberg is 2-0 against the Beast with one hilarious squash thrown in). As of now, however, the night ended with a bang AND a whimper: an explosion of surprise, followed by a trickling dose of doubt about the road ahead.