WrestleWatch: WWE Survivor Series 2019
27th November 2019. 3:41am. Why the fuck am I writing at 3:41am? Well, dear reader, the simple reason for that is my complete inability to get to sleep over the last 3.5 hours. My body is racked with pain, and sleep doesn't seem to be an option at this point. So, the WrestleWatch review that I said on Twitter a few hours ago would be coming in "the next couple of days", comes your way now. Here's hoping I tire myself out by writing and actually finish and publish this at a much more appropriate time of day.
On the plus side... WWE held one of its "Big Four" PPVs this past Sunday night (or Monday morning for anyone reading from Australia or New Zealand). The Big Four are- in chronological order- Royal Rumble in January, Wrestlemania in March/April, Summerslam in August and Survivor Series in November. These events are the most important on the WWE calendar. It could be argued that in the last decade, we now have the Big Five with the addition of the Money In The Bank PPV. Some have even said that MITB eclipses Survivor Series in importance, replacing it as one of the Big Four instead. I disagree, due to a strong level of bias... I fucking love the Survivor Series.
Survivor Series is the second longest running PPV in WWE history, beaten only by Wrestlemania. A staple of the event is the traditional Survivor Series elimination match, where teams are comprised- usually of 5 wrestlers, but occasionally 4- and they compete in a tag team format, with wrestlers getting eliminated by pinfall, submission, disqualification or pinfall. Over the years, we have seen these teams come about in various ways. Sometimes, it is a personal issue between two wrestlers where they recuit friends to help them settle the score. Other times, it is faction warfare. And in recent years, we've had the battle for brand supremacy, basically, which show is better, Raw or Smackdown? The brand supremacy theme continues this year, but with a spanner in the works.. WWE's third brand, NXT, has joined the fray.
NXT might be the new kid on the block in terms of the Survivor Series battle, but it is actually approaching its 10 year anniversary in a matter of months. Starting in early 2010 to replace WWE's ill-fated attempt to revive ECW, NXT was originally a game show which saw Rookies mentored by Pros. The contests that the Rookies had to go through involved shit like obstacle courses and jousting... oh and they had to have wrestling matches sometimes. Such good shit, pal!
Thankfully, the game show was stopped and the NXT brand was re-purposed in June 2012. It would become the home for WWE's developmental system. Much of WWE's top talent today comes from there. Some wrestlers were "home-grown", learning pro wrestling (or sports-entertainment) through the WWE Performance Center, while others were recruited from the independent wrestling scene, both from America and worldwide. Through this recruitment process, NXT thrived and picked up a lot of world class talent. This lead to a successful one hour taped show on the WWE Network, which later included live Takeover specials much like WWE PPVs, and they would even tour the world, airing matches from the UK and my beloved sweet home Australia.
NXT was a viable third brand and a key part of the WWE Network. It evolved and surpassed its orginal developmental purpose. But it was taken a step further this year. In September, NXT went from one hour to two, from taped to live, from the WWE Network to the USA Network. They also got back one of their most successful alumni to boost the star power on the show- the first WWE Universal Champion, Finn Balor.
NXT's presence in Survivor Series was announced via a hype video during the Crown Jewel broadcast. Oh, it was on! But real life can have a funny way of messing with the stories that WWE's world of entertainment tries to tell. WWE would be stuck for a day in Saudi Arabia due to flight difficulties, which meant there weren't enough wrestlers available to hold the live Smackdown on FOX that night. So, an audible was called, and NXT completely took over Smackdown, most notably with NXT Champion Adam Cole defending his title against Daniel Bryan in a last minute main event which turned out to be an instant classic.
Once the rest of the WWE talent finally got back to the States, we started to have the proper build for Survivor Series. Honestly, it started to become a blur. Tons of red, blue and yellow t-shirts. Lots of chaotic brawling. It got into that overkill territory. But some awesome matches were signed for the show, so yay Survivor Series!
The Kickoff Show
For some reason, they had a two hour Kickoff show. About 50 minutes of the first hour was dedicated to their shitty faux-Sportscenter hype for all the matches, which is pretty pointless considering WWE have already had 7 hours each week for the past month to hype these things up. Arggh.
At least the Kickoff Show usually has some "hidden gem" matches.
Match 1: Dolph Ziggler & Robert Roode won an Interbrand Tag Team Battle Royal (at 8:20)
Thoughts: Oh look, it's one of those "everyone gets on the card" matches! Also, it had that shitty tag team battle royal rule where if one wrestler gets thrown out, his partner has to awkwardly leave too. Eh, it was a match. Standard battle royal shit. Street Profits get a LITTLE shine at the end (I'm a big Montez Ford mark), but ultimate Roode and Ziggles get it done. Hey, at least they're counting the Kickoff Show results this year. (*1/2)
Match 2: NXT Cruiserweight Championship- Lio Rush def. Kalisto & Akira Tozawa (at 8:20)
Thoughts: Damn, both matches finished at the exact same time? There was much better action from the cruiserweights though. Lio seems especially energised as the new champ coming off his hiatus, and Kalisto and Tozawa seem motivated to be getting a featured match, which is a little rare for them. Fast-paced work, everyone gets their shit in, Rush hits his awesome Final Hour frog splash to end it. (***)
Wonder if they'll change the design of the Cruiserweight Championship now? Seems weird to re-name it the NXT Cruiserweight Championship and still have a huge-ass WWE logo on it.
New Day promo backstage. Big E is FIRED UP! I miss Xavier Woods though. And damn, Kofi is on the pre-show. He was WWE Champion just over a month ago! We pretending Kofimania never happened, or...?
Match 3: Viking Raiders def. New Day & Undisputed Era (at 14:35)
Thoughts: The Era looked like they were struggling out there, they were all bruised up and missing a pep in their step, less than 24 hours after their hellacious WarGames match. But they gutted it out, trying to chop down the monstrous Raiders. The Raiders were great in beating down both teams, but Ivar also flew around. Crazy athletic for a big man. Viking Experience stacks up the UE, who have the out of being less than 100%, while New Day have the out of not being pinned, losing due to triple threat rules. Well done by all 3 teams, who all looked like they could have taken the win at different times. Good way to set the tone for the main show. (***1/4)
With Viking Raiders winning for Raw, Lio Rush winning for NXT, and Roode & Ziggler winning for Smackdown, we're 1-1-1 on the scoreboard heading into the PPV. So the matches count, but it doesn't matter because we're all even anyway. Ha.
PPV Main Card
Match 1: Team NXT (Rhea Ripley, Candice LeRae, Bianca Belair, Io Shirai & Toni Storm) def. Team Raw (Charlotte Flair, Natalya, Asuka, Kairi Sane & Sarah Logan) & Team Smackdown (Sasha Banks, Carmella, Lacey Evans. Nikki Cross & Dana Brooke) (at 28:00)
Thoughts: Tough task opening the show like this, both for setting the PPV tone and also showing how these matches were going to work. I was wondering how they would deal with the extra team of 5 in there without dissolving into complete and utter chaos, but it was handled well. So three ladies were legal at the same time, and wrestlers are only allowed to tag their own teammates. Cool cool. Also, Shirai and LeRae were kayfabe injured early on to keep the body count down (and also, they probably weren't feeling the greatest after their WarGames match either). Good fluid action, everyone got a little shine- even Dana Brooke, who was looking fine as fuck in silver gear- and Team NXT did a good job as the underdogs with the numbers disadvantage. In fact, for Rhea, it was a similar performance to her WarGames win, gutting through with her power and intensity. Back to back big wins on major shows- this time as the sole survivor- shows that WWE is strongly behind Rhea Ripley. And I love it! (****)
Scoreboard: Raw-1, NXT-2, Smackdown-1.
Backstage, Seth Rollins approaches Kevin Owens and asks about KO's loyalty after his involvement in NXT WarGames last nights. Owens says he's there for Team Raw and fires back at Rollins' history of not being the most loyal partner, throwing down a Shield-esque fist.
Match 2: Roderick Strong def. AJ Styles & Shinsuke Nakamura (at 16:45) in a Champions Triple Threat
Thoughts: Goddamn. This was immense. We know the history AJ and Shin have, but this was a coming out party for Strong. He doesn't always stand out a ton as a solo guy, being part of the Era (even his North American title win was tied closely to the stable). Styles and Nakamura seemed motivated by the new opponent, and they all traded great sequences and some big time moves. It was really refreshing to see Nak in particular giving a shit for once. Strong got a clean win in the confines of the rules, but it was still a bit cheap and heelish, throwing Styles out after he does the damage with the Phenomenal Forearm on Nakamura. Really would love to see Strong on Raw or Smackdown facing either one of these guys again! And damn, they're really putting NXT over strong here, no pun intended. (****)
Scoreboard: Raw-1, NXT-3, Smackdown-1.
Match 3: NXT Championship: Adam Cole def. Pete Dunne (at 14:10)
Thoughts: You have to expect a good match here. It's Adam Cole and Pete Dunne. But it was a great match, and here's how I know how- the crowd were pretty quiet in the beginning of this. It wasn't that the crowd didn't like either guy, they got decent reactions for their entrances, but I think they were a little fatigued after seeing two really high quality matches to start the show. Ever the consummate pros, Cole and Dunne warmed the crowd up to where they were really buying the near falls and high spots.The Panama Sunrise on the apron was an incredibly cool and dangerous looking spot, and I was genuinely concerned for Dunne's welfare there. Cole getting to kick out of the Bitter End means a lot for how he's perceived as well, that's been one of the more protected finishers across NXT/NXTUK over the years. And finally, countering the Bitter End into a Panama Sunrise is one of the best counters I've seen in a very long time. Absolutely outstanding work! (****1/2)
Happy to report, on a personal note, that I did wind up getting some sleep and I'm resuming the second part of this report on 28th November 2019. 6:10am. Still early, but I woke up at 5:45 feeling well rested, so fuck it, here we go!
Small note about the prior NXT Championship match too. Mauro Ranallo was not on the call, instead Michael Cole called the match with Beth Pheonix and NIgel McGuinness. The explanation given for Mauro's absence is that he blew his voice out at WarGames, however it appears that the "Bipolar Rock N Roller" is suffering from his well-documented mental issues. It appears to stem from a Tweet Corey Graves made during WarGames which reads as follows:
"Just for the record guys, I know you wouldn’t know it, but there’s actually a WWE Hall of Famer AND a former Ring of Honor Champion on commentary. I’d imagine they have a lot to offer."
Personally, that's about as tame a criticism as I can recall seeing on the Internet. On the surface, it's just advocating for Beth and Nigel, with the sub-text being that Mauro tends to talk over them... which he absolutely does. All the time. Graves making that comment was enough for Mauro to delete his Twitter and not show up for work. People have the pitchforks out for Graves, and while mental health is absolutely a serious issue, this begs the question- is no one allowed to criticise Mauro ever? Because as far as giving someone shit on the Internet, that's as low-level as it gets.
Anyway, back to the show.
Match 4: WWE Universal Championship: "The Fiend" Bray Wyatt def. Daniel Bryan (at 10:10)
Thoughts: This was probably the most successful big-match outing for The Fiend to date. The introductory Summerslam squash of Balor was cool, the HIAC with Rollins missed the mark, with The Fiend being incredibly OP to the point you couldn't imagine him losing a match ever. Crown Jewel was a little better, but still far outside the realm of possibility. Bryan helped The Fiend find the right balance between unstoppable horror movie monster and pro wrestler. Bryan's own story of personal conflict here was great, as he tried to reconcile the Planet's Champion aspect of his personality with the old "Yes Movement" Bryan that the fans want so badly. Ultimately, Bryan drew on the Yes Movement as the match went on, scoring a near fall with the Knee Plus in a huge moment. And finally, The Fiend planted Bryan into the mat with the Mandible Claw- I really liked the set up, almost a chokeslam into the hold. Great stuff all around. I hope this isn't it for Fiend and Bryan. (***1/2)
Backstage interview with Rey Mysterio. He talks about being a changed man, and being willing to do things that "the old Rey Mysterio" never would have done. He said he hoped his son Dominick was watching.
Match 5: Team Smackdown (Roman Reigns, King Corbin, Shorty G, Mustafa Ali & Braun Strowman) def. Team NXT (Tommaso Ciampa, Matt Riddle, Keith Lee, Damien Priest & WALTER) and Team Raw (Seth Rollins, Randy Orton, Ricochet, Drew McIntyre & Kevin Owens) (at 29:25)
Thoughts: Another really well executed elimination match. It started BIG with Strowman throwing a flying dropkick to wipe out two opponents. The only real disappointment of the match was seeing NXT UK Champion Walter getting eliminated so quickly, getting a brief moment to shine before falling to McIntyre's Claymore kick. Matt Riddle got a big moment by pinning Randy Orton. And Keith Lee had a star making performance, eliminating Seth Rollins clean as a whistle with his finisher in the middle of the ring before falling to Roman Reigns in a very competitive powerhouse battle. The crowd bought in and Reigns put over Lee post-match with a fist bump out of respect. Extremely cool. It's NXT's first real slip up on the scorecards, but they still come out of it looking better than when they came in. (****1/2)
Scoreboard: Raw- 1, NXT- 3, Smackdown-2
Match 6: No Holds Barred- WWE Championship: Brock Lesnar def. Rey Mysterio (at 7:00)
Thoughts: The stipulation was utilised really well, with Rey using a lead pipe to even things up, but Brock was still Brock, able to throw Mysterio around and have him occupy the underdog role he does so expertly. The involvement of Dominick was pitch-perfect, with the tease of throwing in the towel (shot at AEW? The WWE on FOX Twitter account certainly thought so). And we finally had the pay-off of Dominick doing actual wrestling moves, joining his dad for a double 619 (cool, but slightly off on Dom's part) and performing a Frog Splash (which looked fantastic). But it still wasn't enough, the Beast prevails. Could have done with a few more minutes, but other than that, they couldn't have done much better with that scenario. (***3/4)
Match 7: Shayna Baszler def. Becky Lynch & Bayley (at 18:10) in a Champions Triple Threat
Thoughts: CM Punk made the point on WWE Backstage that while he loves the work that the women are doing, he'd like the big moments to happen more organically, rather than WWE pushing it. Giving the main event slot to these three felt a bit like that were pushing it, I feel like either of the world title matches or either of the elimination matches would have been a stronger way to close the show. Not to say this match was bad, just that it was a little underwhelming. It was good work by the women's champions, but not great. And the brand supremacy stakes were missing here- ultimately NXT extended their lead on the scoreboard, but the other outcomes were Smackdown tying NXT on the scoreboard, or Raw sneaking in a second win to save face. Instead, they tried to do the face saving thing with Becky post-match. Why did Becky attack Baszler, anyway? She won fair and square. Pretty heelish, honestly. And I have little desire to see the Becky vs. Shayna issue continue- unless it's a vehicle for a Ronda return. Also, poor Bayley, getting choked out and then not being involved in the final angle. (**3/4)
Scoreboard: Raw-1, NXT-4, Smackdown-2
Survivor Series 2019 was a show that creative obviously put a lot of thought into. It was carefully structured to make NXT look strong, to free it of the stigma of being a "developmental" brand and have it look equal to the established Raw and Smackdown. Whether the black and yellow brand won or lost throughout the show, the stars from NXT were always put in positions to shine, and they delivered with the lights on bright. I was most impressed with how the elimination matches were structured- it could have been incredibly messy with an extra team of 5 wrestlers in the mix, but they made it work. One of the better editions of Survivor Series in recent memory. Now, everyone back to their own shows and let's not see any brand jumping until the Rumble in January!
Enticed by back to back strong shows from WWE, I watched a full episode of Raw for the first time in a long time following Survivor Series. Raw actually did an excellent job following up on a strong weekend in Chicago. The opening segment saw a sorely-needed heel turn from Seth Rollins- he immediately seemed more comfortable in ripping into everyone, but justifying it by saying he just wants to make the company better. They're basically just letting the social media version of Rollins onto our TV screens. I was also really impressed by how Raw filled an hour using the US Title scene of AJ/Rey/Orton/Ricochet/McIntyre. Rey Mysterio winning the United States Championship feels like a consolation prize after he lost to Brock, but I actually think Rey can do a lot of good in this spot, working with guys like Andrade, Humberto, Buddy Murphy... and speaking of Murphy, I really enjoyed the way he blasted through a returning Matt Hardy before Aleister Black made his presence known. And finally, Rollins and Owens tore it up in a great main event. KO is finding his feet really well as an everyman babyface, very compelling in the ring and on the microphone. Dammit, WWE might have sucked me back in, as there's only a few short weeks until the Road To Wrestlemania begins!
Until next time, take care,