Survivor Series Review: Title Match Letdowns Undermine PPV

As I wrote in my Survivor Series preview, the PPV rises and falls based on the stakes of the matches on the card. The traditional elimination matches can suffer because it does not seem to matter who wins, but the importance of the other matches on the card follows the same calculation. This year’s Survivor Series was a decidedly mixed bag- for the highs of Roman Reigns’s emergence and the great tag team work of CM Punk and Daniel Bryan, there were corresponding lows in the world title matches. The elimination match felt important because it became an opportunity for Reigns to break through. On the other hand, the World Heavyweight Title match went comically according to script and felt like a replay between frequent adversaries John Cena and Alberto Del Rio. The WWE Title match between Randy Orton and Big Show was no better because it, too, felt like it followed a predictably unexciting roadmap. In order to create some tension, the night ended with a teaser of title unification between Orton and Cena, but when fans pay to see these matches, they deserve to get the payoff, not hints of something better to come.

Randy Orton def. Big Show to retain the WWE Title

Grade: C

Orton spent the show prior to his match in various efforts to tip the scales in his favor. When The Authority and referee Charles Robinson both failed to grant him the unfair advantage he sought, he became fearful and paranoid in the match itself. He ran from Big Show early and tried to avoid his offense, but Big Show cornered him and gave him giant welts on his chest with big slaps. The match spilled over to the outside of the ring and both Orton and Big Show took shots into the ring steps and posts. Big Show nearly won the match with a chokeslam, but Orton was able to kick out at two. When the referee took a bump and Big Show hit Orton with a KO punch outside the ring, The Authority walked out onto the ramp to distract him. They vowed that there would be no physical interference in the match, but their presence was enough to give Orton a chance to recover and hit an RKO on Big Show. He squared up after the RKO and punted Big Show in the head to earn the three count, but very little respect from the fans. After the victory, John Cena entered the ring with his World Heavyweight Title and stared down Orton. The implication was that the champions would soon face one another, likely to unify the two world championships into one now that there is little distinction between Raw and Smackdown. I recently wrote my opinion on the proliferation of title belts in WWE (click here to read more). To summarize my thoughts, I have no problem with the World Heavyweight Title as an upper-midcard belt, nor do I mind extra title belts in general as long as they enhance feuds as the focus of competition. When they are purely accessories, it does not matter how many or few there are, but since a title unification would likely only enhance the value of the company’s top belt, it would probably be a benefit in the short term.

CM Punk and Daniel Bryan def. The Wyatt Family

Grade: B+

Survivor Series excelled when it stuck to more traditional wrestling matches, such as the elimination tag match and this one between crazy monster heels and an alliance of virtuous guys the crowd likes. Erick Rowan did more in this match than he usually has the chance to do and got off to a great start with a double suplex on both Punk and Bryan. The face team- nicknamed the GOATs, or Greatest of All Teams, by Punk- stayed in control with quick tags and a Hart Attack on Luke Harper. Harper recovered and nailed Punk with a clothesline and a sit-out bodyslam for a two count. As the match went on, Bryan tried a top rope hurricanrana on Harper, but Harper countered with a leaping powerbomb and Punk had to break up the pin. After Rowan threw Punk to the floor, Harper hit a Half Nelson Fallaway slam on Bryan for a near fall. Bryan finally reached Punk for a tag and he rallied. He went to the top rope for a Macho Elbow, but turned and hit a splash to Bray Wyatt and Rowan instead. Rowan was able to save Harper from a GTS until Bryan hit him with a running knee and Punk regrouped to finish Harper off with the GTS. It was a well-built tag match with lots of good wrestling and a fun contrast in styles. On top of that, there is more to this feud because Wyatt can get involved to help his team get its heat back.

John Cena def. Alberto Del Rio to retain the World Heavyweight Title

Grade: C+

Before the match, Cena convinced the WWE doctor to let him wrestle without a brace on his injured arm, which would have made more sense if he did not already dominate everyone he faced with the brace. In the match, Del Rio short-circuited every offensive rally by Cena for almost ten minutes. Cena finally built some momentum and the match picked up when Cena hit a very good tornado DDT off the top rope. Del Rio answered with a step-up enzuigiri and a thrust kick, but only got two counts each time. Del Rio worked Cena’s arm throughout the match and tried for his Cross-Armbreaker repeatedly. The first time he tried it, Cena stepped through and turned it into an STF. The second time, he successfully put Cena in the Cross-Armbreaker, but Cena lifted him for a powerbomb. When Del Rio tried the submission hold one more time, Cena responded with an AA to win. The match itself was passable, though the result was so predictable that there was no suspense. It also came off as very similar to many matches Cena and Del Rio have wrestled in the past.

Roman Reigns Survived Elimination Tag Match

Grade: A-

The traditional Survivor Series elimination match kicked off the PPV portion of the show about as well as anyone could have hoped. The match set out to tell the story of Roman Reigns’s resolve and dominance and did so extremely effectively. Dean Ambrose was the first man eliminated from the match when his argument with the referee gave Cody Rhodes the opportunity to roll him up for a pin. The Usos then splashed The Shield and the Real Americans, respectively, on either side of the ring. Goldust and Antonio Cesaro worked with each other very well and prevented the type of premature eliminations that can make Survivor Series matches seem less competitive than other matches. Rey Mysterio tagged in to hit a 619 to Jack Swagger, which the Usos followed with a superkick and top rope splash to eliminate Swagger. Cesaro reclaimed some momentum for his depleted team as he swung each Uso for about 15 seconds. Rhodes tagged in after the swings and rolled up a disoriented Cesaro to bring the advantage to 5-on-2. Reigns started to even the numbers when he eliminated Jimmy Uso with a spear, then blindly tagged himself in as Rhodes delivered Cross-Rhodes to Seth Rollins. As Rhodes focused on Rollins, Reigns speared and eliminated him. When Rollins finally recovered from Cross-Rhodes, he stomped Jey Uso and pinned him to even up the numbers. Mysterio, who worked only in short spurts, rolled Rollins up to pin him, but Rollins stayed in the ring and beat Mysterio down before he left the ring. Goldust and Reigns worked well with each other and Goldust got several near falls, including on a nice powerslam. He eventually whiffed on a clothesline and Reigns bounced back with another spear and another pin. Mysterio and Reigns finally squared off and Mysterio quickly countered a powerbomb into a hurricanrana. He tried to follow with a 619, but Reigns got to his feet and hit a final spear to eliminate Mysterio and win the match. Reigns looked so good in his comeback that he earned the support of the fans and got a great face pop. It was a star-making effort for Reigns and it would not be a surprise if it catapults him to a turn and push as a singles wrestler.

Natalya and Nikki Bella Survived Divas Elimination Match

Grade: C-

AJ Lee gave a speech to her team before the match that injected a storyline into the match that was not there before. She pointed out that the existence of Total Divas is an implicit insult to her team because it shows that they do not value them as much as the members of the cast. She added that the match would be their chance to show their value. It made me interested in the match and should have been on Raw at some point before the PPV. The pins came fast and furious in the match and most of them do not warrant explanation. Alicia Fox was the first to go, followed by Cameron and Rosa Mendes. Summer Rae did a dance routine when she entered and Nikki Bella kicked her while she posed to take her out. Eva Marie got booed loudly and pinned by Kaitlyn instantly. Kaitlyn also took out Naomi before Brie Bella pinned her. Aksana pinned Brie when AJ distracted her and Nikki pinned Aksana after a nice backbreaker. Nikki had to tag in the raw JoJo to face Tamina Snuka and Tamina took her out after some brief offense by JoJo. Tamina missed a Superfly Splash on Natalya and Natalya came back with a Sharpshooter. AJ broke up the hold, but Tamina was announced as eliminated, seemingly because AJ interfered. AJ tried to put the Black Widow on Natalya, but Nikki distracted her and Natalya made her tap out to the Sharpshooter. Unlike the other elimination match, this one was full of eliminations that seemed unearned.

Mark Henry def. Ryback

Grade: B

Henry returned to answer Ryback’s open challenge with a shaved head and a little bit more agility than when we last saw him (the bar is low for Henry’s agility, but in a big man match like this, every little bit of athetleticism helps). Ryback managed to lift Henry for a vertical suplex and a spinebuster, but when he tried to hit the Meathook Clothesline, Henry left his feet and hit what JBL called the world’s largest cross-body. He followed it up with a World’s Strongest Slam to win. Henry is one of the few wrestlers who is completely over with all types of fans and it is good to have him back.

Big E Langston def. Curtis Axel to retain the Intercontinental Title

Grade: D+

Langston’s victory basically amounted to a squash match that was similar to his Intercontinental Title win, but less competitive. It started with some simple mat wrestling to highlight Axel’s diversity. Langston quickly took control with a belly-to-belly suplex and splash for a two count. Axel hit a perfect plex and tried a neckbreaker, but Langston avoided it and hit the BIg Ending to win. He gave an interview after the match full of Boston-centric cheap pops. Langston has a lot going for him, but he needs to diversify his offense and improve the wayhe builds stories in his matches or he will become very stale and repetitive. It is appropriate that John Cena is supposedly a backstage champion of Langston because Langston has many of the same strengths and weaknesses as a young Cena. Axel, for his part, is rudderless without Paul Heyman and needs some sort of narrative infusion to get his heat back.

The Miz def. Kofi Kingston

Grade: B

Miz did his best to match Kingston’s frenzied pace in the pre-show match and did a relatively good job given his deficit of athleticism. Both wrestlers managed to perform some creative and elaborate counters to hit their signature moves. Kingston avoided a Figure Four and Miz dodged Trouble in Paradise. When Miz locked Kingston in a Full Nelson to set up for the Skull Crushing Finale, Kingston rolled into a pin, but Miz rolled him back to get a three count that frustrated Kingston. When Miz stuck out his hand after the match, Kingston refused to shake it and slapped Miz instead. The two wrestlers who have not been on hot streaks lately deserve credit for a solid opening to the show. Moreover, the shades of grey in the conflict between Miz and Kingston is not groundbreaking, but it is the most interesting story either has had in months.