Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Survivor Series 2017 Review // RAW vs. SmackDown

It had been repeatedly hammered home that this was that Survivor Series was the one night of the year when RAW and SmackDown went head to head and that's exactly what Houston, Texas received on 19th November. The show had Triple H, Kurt Angle, Samoa Joe, Finn Balor and Braun Strowman tagging up for RAW against SmackDown's John Cena, Randy Orton, Shinsuke Nakamura, Shane McMahon & Bobby Roode in elimination tag action, RAW's The Shield facing The New Day representing SmackDown, another elimination tag action as Sasha Banks, Bayley, Asuka, Alica Fox & Nia Jax from RAW faced off with Natalya, Becky Lynch, Naomi, Tamina & Carmella of SmackDown and RAW Women's Champion Alexa Bliss squared off with SmackDown Women's Champion Charlotte Flair. But was it any good? Let's take a look!

Elimination // RAW (Triple H, Kurt Angle, Samoa Joe, Finn Balor [Prince Devitt] & Braun Strowman) def. SmackDown (John Cena, Randy Orton, Shinsuke Nakamura, Shane McMahon & Bobby Roode) via pinfall // 33:21

Stephanie McMahon and Daniel Bryan had a little chat backstage about the RAW vs. SmackDown Men's match and it was just quite a cute situation. Jason Jordan spoke to Charly Caruso, saying he was ready to go with RAW needed him later tonight.

Holy moly, there's a lot to talk about here. Let's begin by talking about some of the combination that the match threw out, as creative got it pretty much spot on, in terms of who people were interested in seeing clash together. We got a little bit of Randy Orton vs. Samoa Joe, Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Finn Balor, Triple H vs. Bobby Roode and Kurt Angle vs. Bobby Roode all before the first elimination. Those ten minutes or so were a joy to watch because the crowd was hot for pretty much every pairing, the pairings were amongst some of the ones I was most looking forward to seeing and they all played out pretty much step for step perfectly. Triple H and Roode was a favourite for it's sports-entertainment factor, playing on the similarities in the way the two perform, but Balor and Nakamura had the best wrestling sequence. We later also got John Cena in their with Samoa Joe and then Kurt Angle (for a massive pop) before Finn Balor and Randy Orton rounded out the pairings I was looking forward to with a lovely back and forth. 

Let's delve further into the booking, as as much as the pairings can bring excitement and fill the bout out, it's the eliminations and their timing that the bout lives and dies on. Nakamura going out first was a little disappointing, but he looked better here than in any of his other PPV outings. He was shown outwitting both Angle and Triple H, with only his over-exuberance in knocking Braun Strowman off the apron being his eventual downfall. The same can be said for Roode, who out wrestled Triple H and gave a good fight against the unstoppable Strowman. Joe argued with teammate Balor before taking two Attitude Adjustments, Cena took a pair of Angle slams, Balor looked great when called upon, played a hand in Cena's elimination and only fell to an RKO outta nowhere and Orton was caught distracted by Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn getting involved with Shane McMahon and also fell to the matches star, Strowman. It was mildly annoying to see Strowman as the only regular performer in the stretch, but he gets a huge rub from being left in the ring with Angle, Triple H and McMahon, whilst those three were preserved for a big WrestleMania match next year. It would've been nice for a regular roster member to get a pin on one of those part-timers and having Angle pin Cena was a little counterproductive, but everyone was protected in one way or another, which makes up for that a little bit.

To conclude, I should talk about the storyline elements of the match, including it's finish. Firstly, we had Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens turning up to jump Shane McMahon, moments after Balor had been eliminated. They'd quickly get run off by McMahon with a steel chair, with Orton subsequently being eliminated. This is a good thing to build intrigue for SmackDown and had been hinted to earlier on, but I'm not sure where it can be taken beyond another match between McMahon and Owens and the two best friends moaning every single week on television, which will get old quickly. The finish ended up becoming much more of an sports-entertainment angle than anything, which different people will have different tolerances for. Myself, I can give or take it. Triple H saved opponent and brother-in-law McMahon after a lengthy period inside an Ankle lock from Angle, nailed Angle with a Pedigree, had McMahon pin the Olympic Gold medallist and then hit a Pedigree on McMahon to take the win. Having those three involved in a main event finish in 2017 doesn't sit particularly well with, but neither does it make angry or take away my enjoyment massively. The commentary team did a good job of explaining the potential motives behind The Game's actions, whilst Strowman staring a whole in Hunter for pretty much the duration was pretty much enough to justify the slightly convoluted conclusion.

After the match, Braun Strowman warned Triple H that if he ever crossed him again he would never play the Game again, meaning that when The Game tried to attack the Monster Among Men from behind, he ended up taking two Running Powerslams to close the show.

The Shield def. The New Day via pinfall // 21:32 

The Shield and The New Day warmed up backstage towards the end of the Kick-Off show as we found out that that match would open the main show. The Newy Day got some mic-time, talking about dogs, Bob Barker and brotherhood.

Well, this was barrel loads of fun. The two teams opened the show with loads of energy from the off, beginning by telling a story of New Day being technically superior whilst The Shield had the power advantage as Kofi Kingston and Dean Ambrose, Xavier Woods and Seth Rollins and finally, Roman Reigns and Big E paired up. The match felt like it always had the potential to break down, with a couple of sequences placed at interesting times during the match, mixing up the traditional tag team layout and remaining entertaining throughout. After a short stint for Woods, Ambrose worked the face in peril role, which is something he excels in, but in amongst that you had Rollins and Reigns jumping Woods and Kingston on the outside, as well as the big spot of Big E's spear through the ropes. So, the things we've become used to in tag team matches were pretty much all present (including a lightning hot tag from Rollins), it was hard to know exactly what would come next or when the next moment would take place, making for great viewing. 

Honestly, it stands testament to the two teams, their work over the last few years and their work in this match, that by the end, after watching them go at it for over twenty minutes, I wanted more. Perhaps that was because it was the opening match and had it came in the middle of the card I would've been a bit more fatigued by the show, in which case that's a credit to the booking staff for sticking this on as the opener. I feel like for all the wild brawling, the match could've done with a few extra convincing near falls to just raise the drama down the stretch. The King's Landing and Dirty Deeds on Kingston with a late save by Woods, as a double Midnight Hour to Ambrose and Rollins where Reigns made the save by hitting a spear on Big E were the two that stand out, but I would've liked to have seen a few more. The logical moment to fit one in would've been when The Shield set-up for the Triple Powerbomb on Woods, after Big E and Kingston were thrown into the barricades, as E recovering to stop the move took a little momentum away from the match, when E recovering to break up the fall would've resulted in a memorable moment and also justified The Shield using an avalanche version of the move to get the eventual win. That's a minor issue with a match that I enjoyed tremendously and the bout should be commended for standing out amongst the five other tag team matches on the card.

Elimination // RAW (Sasha Banks, Bayley, Asuka [Kana], Alicia Fox & Nia Jax) def. SmackDown (Natalya, Becky Lynch, Naomi, Tamina & Carmella) via submission // 18:26 

Backstage, Becky Lynch rallied the SmackDown Women's Team with everyone throwing out some of their achievements and Lana hinting that Tamina would be able to take out RAW's Nia Jax. Stephanie McMahon fired up the RAW Women's Team, going along the line and giving individual advice to each woman, in a cute segment. 

Just as men's match was booked around Braun Strowman, the theme for the Women's bout was "Nobody is ready for Asuka". Of course, the conclusion where Asuka was able to battle off both Tamina and Natalya, ending up getting two submissions in the process, was the main way Asuka was put over as an unstoppable force. The crowd was hot for her scrap, getting behind her, even if it was slightly obvious how things were going to go down, because Asuka's badassery is undeniable. There was a number of other ways that fed into building the Empress of Tomorrow though. Tamina's dominance, eliminating Bayley and coming off the better of Nia Jax (with the help of Naomi) would work to Asuka's advantage when Tamina tapped out quickly to an armbar. The same when Natalya tapped out Sasha Banks with the Sharpshooter, only for Asuka to escape the hold relatively easily and lock in a submission of her own moments later. Basically, anytime anyone got into it with Asuka, they got flattened. How this will effect the division as a whole, especially on RAW, in 2018 is yet to be seen, but it's only a matter of time before Asuka has gold around her waist. 

The rest of the match and it's structure was a little hit and miss. The early eliminations of Becky Lynch and Bayley felt like a mistake, with the two being amongst the strongest and most popular workers in the match. There was combinations that I was looking forward to seeing both women that didn't happen because neither was around past the five minute mark. Then you had Carmella, who did very little until her elimination. The strangest moment of the match saw Naomi pin Alicia Fox and then weirdly lock in a submission, which lead to Banks eliminating Naomi with a Banks Statement. It was a confusing moment, that didn't come off well and only achieved to make Naomi look a bit dim. There was however a number of good wrestling sequences peppered throughout the match, including a surprisingly good showdown between Jax and Tamina, a slick sequence with Naomi and Fox and a personal favourite encounter with Banks and Natalya. The biggest compliment I can give the match is that it didn't as long as it was, never outstaying it's welcome and had enough variety within it to remain interesting.

Charlotte Flair [Charlotte] def. Alexa Bliss via submission // 15:45 

Alexa Bliss joined the Kick-Off panel for an interview, with things quickly developing into a split-screen conversation with Charlotte Flair. It was a good idea to give the pair sometime to interact after no build-up for their match, but the content was a little weird, including a strange moment when Flair told Bliss that she hoped that Bliss beat her, for reasons that were never made clear. 

Similar to the Women's elimination bout, there were elements of this match that worked well and elements that either didn't work as well or could've worked better. The overall story of the bout was a strong one, with idea that Charlotte Flair was the more powerful of the two coming to the forefront from the very beginning as see got the better of a back and forth strike sequence, followed up by the idea that Bliss was potentially smarter and willing to do more as she hit an arm wringer of the apron in the first highspot of the match. This was perhaps best seen in a good near fall, where Bliss was able to evade a stalking Flair and hit a Snap DDT. We'd also see Bliss attempting to work over Flair's ribs and stomach, which was fine and they had a couple of decent spots to showcase this, but the thread was criminally underused in terms of storytelling. The focus had very little effect on Flair and whilst Charlotte sold well at times, we could've seen in the injury play into near falls, Flair struggle a little more to bridge in the Figure Eight, which only would've made her look stronger when she eventually managed to pull out the victory! 

The two mostly worked well together, a personal favourite moment was Flair blocking a tornado DDT and hitting an exploder suplex into the turnbuckle, there was also a number of instances of sloppiness that hurt the overall picture. Bliss's mid-rope version of Insault to Injury was a cool idea, but then Bliss completely missed the second part of the move. There was a debacle when Bliss initially went for a Code Red as well, when it appeared like the two attempted to cover by going in a different direction for a moment, only to reattempt the move a little bit later. Considering we'd seen Kalisto hit the move on the Kick-Off show and hit it much better with Enzo Amore, this was a risky move that didn't really need to be included. Flair blocking a DDT by the grabbing the ropes also stands out, because the crowd completely no sold the moment, possibly because the pair didn't make it very clear what was actually going on. The final third of the bout showed what the two can do together and featured some much better wrestling than we'd seen in the middle section. Bliss has a habit of wrestling above her ability and making mistakes, which seemed to be the case here, had the two stuck to something more simple and focused on fleshing out the story they'd developed, then this good match could've been taken up a few notches. 

Brock Lesnar def. AJ Styles via pinfall // 15:18

Kayla Braxton asked AJ Styles what his strategy was for later on, with Styles saying he wasn't going to tell her, but said he'd use his fear to his advantage, before Jinder Mahal turned up and smiled at him. Paul Heyman was interviewed by Charly Caruso, saying that AJ Styles was "Phenomenal" but that he was in for a fight tonight.

AJ Styles provided the opponent for what would be Brock Lesnar's best singles match in two years, as the two lived up to the hype and created a great match that played to the strengths of both characters. Styles has had another incredible year, continuing to prove he's the best in-ring performer in WWE and this was another example of his abilities. He spent most of the match taking a hell of a beating, selling that beating and fighting from underneath. Styles selling and bumping in the first two thirds of the match was superb, as the bout had a similar vibe to Lesnar's match with John Cena at SummerSlam 2014, but Styles bought a certain extra believability as was chucked around the ring. The moment where Styles took his third or fourth German suplex and then bambied his way back to his feet, only to fall back down immediately, was a great example of this. 

The bout did a fantastic job of placing Styles as the underdog, but creating opportunities for him that the crowd could buy into, helped by the lighting quick offence of the bouts protagonist, whilst his selling, showing he was hurt but fighting anyway, made it easy to get behind "The Phenomenal One". AJ was also helped by Lesnar's willingness to sell for him, especially when caught in the calf crusher. He went above and beyond what you'd expect to see from someone like Lesnar, screaming in agony whilst in the hold, as well as hobbling around for the rest of the match. The Beast is clever enough to know that he looks more impressive for winning on one leg, whilst that also helps Styles look valiant in defeat, causing an injury to a man who has breezed past opponents like Samoa Joe and Braun Strowman already this year. Styles' other moment came from a Phenomenal Forearm near fall, when Paul Heyman was the one selling the potential danger to his client at ringside. When the two went exchanged holds, which wasn't often, it was done well with a good speed and accuracy, I would've liked to have seen a little bit more of that in the match's final stretch and another five minutes would've raised things up a notch had that been the case.

The Usos def. Cesaro [Claudio Castagnoli] & Sheamus via pinfall // 15:55

A bright tag team bout that matched it's promise and delivered big as the two best tag team in WWE collided. Similar to The Shield vs. The New Day, there were elements of the traditional tag team match structure, but these ideas were played upon and messed with to create a number of different situations. The one moment that stands out from the early part of the match was Jey Uso's hot tag, in which he initially had all the momentum against Cesaro, only for The Swiss Superman to dodge a hip attack and hit a European uppercut, seemingly cutting the hot tag off early, until moments later he got back body dropped into the opposite corner and Jey hit the initially intended hip attack. Uso could've just hit the hip attack straight away and it would've been perfectly fine as part of the hot tag, but the momentum switch and the struggle for Jey meant that when the move was eventually hit it meant a lot more than it would have otherwise.    

The second half of the match featured a number of well-worked near falls and clever highspots. Calling back to last year's Survivor Series, where the two teams were the remaining four in an Elimination match, was a lovely touch, with the teams reenacting the finish their as a near fall. Added detail along the way like Cesaro dropping his mouth guard out of his mouth to distract the referee made me smile and it's that attention to detail and ability to conjure original ideas that has helped these teams develop the reputations that they have. A wild sequence with Jey fighting against both Bar members before succumbing to an assisted White Noise and a superb Tower of Power are also worth mentioning here. The conclusion with The Usos absolutely dominant after Cesaro sacrificed himself, by throwing himself in front of a pair of superkicks meant for Sheamus, before the twins nailed multiple kicks to Sheamus anyway and picked up the win with a Superfly Splash after a tope tag, was full of energy and a moment that Jimmy and Jey fully deserved after the year they've had. That tope tag right at the end was one of the coolest things on the entire show! They've come along way since the "When I say Uce, you say Oh" days, that's for sure.

Baron Corbin def. The Miz via pinfall // 9:25 

The Miz was in the Social Media Lounge with Charly Caruso answered some of the most asinine questions that have ever been asked. Bless him, he tried to make this entertaining, but it ended up just being ridiculously dull as the questions were almost all exactly the same and focused on the RAW vs. SmackDown feud which is the least interesting thing about the show.

Man insults a man's pregnant wife, then beats up that man and his friends in front of said pregnant wife. That's pretty much the story we had on our hands here as WWE struggled to work out how to effectively deal with a heel vs. heel scenario. Corbin and Miz actually did a good job with what they had to do, working a couple of nice sequences and bringing in some psychology as Miz began working the leg to set up for the Figure Four, with Corbin selling well and then got called back to later on when Miz kicked the leg away to set up for a snap DDT. Corbin taking out the constantly interfering Miztourage was an entertaining watch and the match in general made Corbin look like a bit of a beast, but in terms of the story that had been told heading into the match I'm not sure it was the right move here. How does Miz get revenge for his wife after this? We already know he's not the traditional tough guy, but losing so convincingly here pretty much castrated him and after an incredible year left him with very little to do going forward.

Renee Young interviewed Baron Corbin after the match, with Corbin actually doing alright as he talked about shutting the fans mouths, talking with a little bit of character. 

Kevin Owens [Kevin Steen] & Sami Zayn [El Generico] def. Breezango via pinfall // 7:07 

Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn got to chat a bit about how pissed off they at being on the pre-show and having to face Breezango and stuff, as well as calling SmackDown an unsafe working environment. Breezango interrupted talking about fashion felons and generally being their usual entertaining selves to lead into their match.

The best match on the pre-show was it's main event and even then this was a cookie cutter tag team match. Considering the match was thrown together on the day, the four guys did a decent job with what they were given, putting on an enjoyable contest, working well in their roles and generally being good at their jobs. Breezango's act seemed particularly fresh, but that's not surprising considering they've only had one match on television since Money in the Bank in June! Fandango's hot tag was a reminder of his in-ring talents, as he fired back with a missile dropkick and tornado DDT and hopefully this performance means that we get to see more of the Fashion Police on SmackDown, outside of their on and off vignettes. The finish was well-done, with the commentary team pushing the guardian angel idea Owens and Zayn have used in promos as Owens saved Zayn from a Last Dance from Fandango, before a Pop-up Powerbomb sealed the victory for OwenZayn as they remain undefeated in WWE. 

Elias [Elias Samson] def. Matt Hardy via pinfall // 7:50 

Elias treated us to a song about how shit Houston is, which seemed to really annoy Booker T on commentary. 

The first match from the Kick-Off show as Matt Hardy once again was asked to perform in front of a building that if I was generous I would say was half-full, in a repeat from SummerSlam. Two of my notes on this match were "some things happen". That's because there was literally no reason to care about this what so ever. The match was thrown together the day of the show when WWE realised they had announced a two hour kick-off show but had only booked one match for it. Elias' double underhook shoulderbreaker and Hardy hitting a side effect on the apron were the two things that made me take notice. I also thought it was curious to have Elias go over Hardy, when the Drifter has been putting over Jason Jordan consistently since October and the fact that every match on the Kick-Off show saw heel come out on top.

Cruiserweight Championship // Enzo Amore def. Kalisto via pinfall // 7:23 

Enzo Amore had pre-match promo about beef and cake and chicken.

This was maybe a tad bit better than their clash at TLC last month, but still nowhere near the level of matches we were getting during Neville's run as champion. There was some good stuff, some okay stuff and a messy finish, but through all of that the crowd could not have cared any less if they had tried. They popped every now and again, for moves like the Code Red from Kalisto, but from the moment Enzo took control there might as well have been no one there. The fact that the match took place when the crowd was still filing into the building didn't help, but I don't think it would've made much difference if all had been present and correct. From Enzo's pre-match promo it seemed like most of the Houston crowd was still behind Amore and therefore when he began working heel and controlling it just didn't work. Maybe now is the time for Enzo to stop doing his crowd-pleasing catchphrases.


There was a weird advert of Kay Jewellers with Bayley helping WWE fan Steven choose a ring to propose to his girlfriend, Valerie, inside an empty arena. 

Whilst the Kick-Off show was a big waste of time, Survivor Series 2017 was the first longer WWE PPV that managed to make it's time count. The main event wasn't a great match and featured questionable booking in the final stages, focusing too much on part-time workers, but simultaneously did a good job of elevating Braun Strowman further in the eyes of the casual and also featured some stronger moments and had a tired crowd popping time after time for the connections in the ring. The Shield vs. The New Day, Brock Lesnar vs. AJ Styles and The Usos vs. Cesaro & Sheamus were all top drawer contests, diverse and entertaining in their own way. The rest of the main card was solid, with Asuka's performance in the Women's tag, at the top end and the odd booking of Corbin vs. Miz at the other, but there was nothing on the main card that was boring or poorly performed. Overall, this was good PPV across the board, although you're overall enjoyment of the event will depend on your tolerance for how the main event was constructed.

Review by James Marston (@IAmNotAlanDale

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