Survivor Series Review: Being Thankful for What Is Next

The original Survivor Series was a Thanksgiving Pay-Per View event designed to whet wrestling fans’ appetites for the main course of Wrestlemania. All wrestling shows serve the dual purposes of entertaining on their own and preparing for what is to come next, but Survivor Series has changed dramatically over the years. WWE devised it as a way to feature its top wrestlers in oddball teams that fans otherwise would never see. It served the immediate purpose as it featured alliances that would otherwise never occur while also functioning as a springboard for feuds that would culminate at Wrestlemania four months later. Now, WWE has about seven hours of new TV programming each week which means that all of the oddball alliances have been done to death. WWE also has three more PPV shows before Wrestlemania, so Survivor Series no longer serves to set up feuds so far in advance.

I have attempted to evaluate the show on its merits rather than in comparison to its lofty yet bygone status. In that regard, I found Survivor Series to be solid as a self-contained event and quietly very effective at turning the page to the next chapter of rivalries and story lines in WWE.

The triple-threat WWE Title match at the top of the card was the night’s most significant event. John Cena and Ryback tenuously aligned with one another to overpower CM Punk at the start of the match, but quickly fought one another as well. Cena nearly made Ryback tap out to the STF until Punk ascended the turnbuckle behind them and delivered an elbow drop to break up the submission hold. When Ryback established himself as the dominant force in the match, Punk and Cena briefly buried the hatchet to suplex him powerfully through the announce table. With Ryback incapacitated at length, Cena and Punk showed their outstanding in-ring chemistry once again. Cena countered a running bulldog into an STF, and each man kicked out of the other’s finisher. Eventually, Ryback recovered and was able to deliver Shellshocked on Punk, then Cena. As he was about to pin Cena, three young wrestlers from NXT emerged from the audience to gang up on Ryback and take him out of the match. As often happens in triple-threat matches, Punk was able to vulture the pin from the other face in the match and retain his title to extend his reign to a full year.

The match itself was entertaining if not spectacular, but WWE did an excellent job of handling a difficult situation moving forward. Ryback was thrust into the main event to cover for the injured Cena two months ago. Getting him back out of the main event without ruining his credibility with the crowd was destined to be a difficult task. He remained dominant for two main events without having to carry the WWE Title and its leadership role for which he is not prepared. Also, he is now set up for a feud with some very interesting young wrestlers, which is a great way to cash in the momentum he has built in the last year. Dean Ambrose, in particular, made a name for himself in WWE’s developmental territory and has the promise of future stardom. The Nexus introduced and established several wrestlers simultaneously, and this tighter-knit, more focused trio may be an even better version of that stable.

Punk’s presumptive next move is to angle his way toward a feud with The Rock at the Royal Rumble. While there was likely temptation to break up his title reign and the heat he has earned in the last year, WWE patiently and wisely deferred that payoff to a bigger stage. Rock-Punk has seemed inevitable for several months, and it sets up for the Rock-Punk-Cena triumvirate at Wrestlemania that every fan should see as one of the best possible matches to book.

Cena’s path is less clear. It is likely that he will get another chance to wrestle Punk at TLC next month, and there is the lingering tension with Dolph Ziggler over the AJ-Vickie Guerrero beef. Cena could go in either direction, or even both. In any case, he deserves credit for putting Punk over yet again and allowing the heel to grow enough to create the type of career-defining rivalry that Punk-Cena has become.

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The other two main events similarly prepared their participants for what comes next. Big Show retained his World Heavyweight Title against Sheamus in a way that did not quite conclude their feud. Early in the match, Big Show used his size to prevent Sheamus from putting many moves together. He started to climb the ropes when Sheamus moved under him and amazingly lifted Big Show on his shoulders for an electric chair. Near the finish, Big Show blocked a Brogue Kick, and then Sheamus avoided a Chokeslam and hit White Noise for a near fall. Sheamus then teased a Brogue Kick in the corner, but when he charged, Big Show pulled the referee into the ring. A trainer and two more referees came to help Sheamus tend to the knocked out Scott Armstrong. When Big Show took advantage of the distraction to hit the Knockout Punch, one of the other referees counted three for an apparent win. Instead, the other referee called the match a disqualification because Big Show pulled Armstrong in front of him. As a result, Big Show can say that he knocked Sheamus out again, but Sheamus maintains plenty of heat and legitimacy from the result as well as the beating he put on Big Show with a chair after the match. While I incorrectly thought the beating would lead to Dolph Ziggler cashing in his Money in the Bank contract, the more likely story is that it will be used as a plot device to set up a Chairs Match at next month’s TLC PPV. Sheamus has worked so well in his two matches with Big Show that I do not mind a third go-round, even though I suspect the story will struggle to maintain the emotion that built up over the last two weeks.

The traditional Survivor Series Elimination Match is the one that has lost most of its luster as modern wrestling has diminished the PPV’s importance. Nonetheless, it served an important storyline function in putting Dolph Ziggler over Randy Orton as the sole survivor. One notable change was David Otunga subbing for Cody Rhodes, who suffered what sounded like an NFL team’s injury report on Main Event. The match came down to Orton and The Miz against Ziggler and Del Rio- the same four who squared off in a tag match on Smackdown last week. Miz was the first to go out of that group, and Ziggler effectively got Del Rio eliminated when his interference backfired and allowed Orton to hit him with an RKO. After avoiding an RKO and hitting a Zigzag that did not get the pin, Ziggler played possum in the corner as Orton prepared for a punt. As Orton ran at him, Ziggler delivered a Sweet Chin Music-style crescent kick that bloodied Orton’s face and got him the upset win. Even though Ziggler has not yet cashed in his title match contract, he has gone over strong recently, and this win over Orton is one of the biggest of his career.

The show’s undercard was a fairly forgettable, but well-wrestled PPV undercard. Antonio Cesaro disposed of R-Truth in the type of clean win that keeps his momentum moving toward a more legitimate angle. It looked like R-Truth may have hurt his knee near the end of the match, as well.

Kaitlyn wrestled one of her better matches after being jumped backstage by Aksana and fighting her off. She then wrestled the match in attire that is more like what she wears backstage than her usual ring attire. In spite of the better performance, Eve retained the Divas Title after swiping Kaitlyn’s legs out from under her on the apron then delivering her neck-breaker.

AJ confronted Vickie Guerrero with “evidence” of her affairs with other talent, including an excessively stereotypical picture of her eating burritos with Ricardo Rodriguez. I actually liked the segment because AJ seemed more comfortable in the humorous angle than her dead serious management role. It ended with Tamina attacking AJ, setting them up for the in-ring feud AJ has needed for a while.

Finally, WWE made good on the “card subject to change” policy when it scrapped 3MB’s match for another Elimination Match featuring the Colons, Primetime Players, and Tensai against Rey Mysterio, Sin Cara, Tyson Kidd, Justin Gabriel, and Brodus Clay. Tyson Kidd stole the show with a flip rollup to beat Titus O’Neil, a Sharpshooter counter to a suplex to eliminate Epico, and a great dropkick to Primo coming off the top rope. The match ended with a 619 then high flying moves by all four survivors (Sin Cara, Gabriel, Kidd, Mysterio) on Darren Young.