Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Survivor Series 2013 review

With Survivor Series out of the way for another year WWE are free to begin making plans for TLC, a show they've used as an experiment ground in the last few years, and the number two show of their annual pay-per-view lineup, Royal Rumble. It was clear from the announced card that Survivors is no longer of particular importance. There were good matches on offer but nothing that changed my feeling on the event’s standing in WWE’s eyes.

The evening kicked off with a pre-show battle between Kofi Kingston and The Miz. The "big" news was that 'The Awesome One' had supposedly gone heel the previous Monday on RAW. Despite this developmental he didn't act overtly heelish and won clean. There was a surprise after the match: Kofi gave Miz an unprovoked slap. Whether this indicated a Kofi heel turn was left ambiguous. The following evening's RAW didn't help to clarify things.

The show proper got underway with a Triple H promo. Presumably just to be contrary 'The Game' decided to play the good guy, even though he's the company's number one heel. He even revived his (tired) "Are you ready?" shtick. For the record, Boston, Massachusetts was.

Match one was the traditional ten man elimination tag bout. It was an incredible piece of work. Building logically over its generous runtime it delivered surprises and flurries of excitement, as such it elevated everyone who was involved. Even the Usos looked like they were on the rise coming out of this one (not that the aura lasted).

The first man out was Dean Ambrose, which was a surprise given his standing. But then it's his standing that ensured the surprise had sufficient impact. He was joined in the locker room a few minutes later by Jack Swagger. Gradually the Usos, Cesaro, and Rhodes were whittled away, evening things up with Goldust and Mysterio facing Rollins and Reigns. Contradicting the first law of wrestling logic, that the heel should always be at an advantage, Rollins was the next man out. Which left Reigns in a two-on-one situation against the veterans.
'The Bizarre One' managed to control Reigns for a bit before being blasted and pinned with a spear. Mysterio nipped in and set Reigns up for the 619 but also ended up eating spear, leaving 'The Hound of Justice' as the sole survivor for his team. It was a nice way of getting Reigns’ durability and power over. An early Career Highlight™ for him.

Backstage we saw trouble brewing in The Authority. Which is nothing new, really. They've got to be the most dysfunctional, unsupportive lead heel faction there's ever been. Tripper and Steph told WWE champion Randy Orton that he had to prove he was worthy of being the face of the company. Naturally the champ did not take the news well.

Match two was nothing special. Big E Langston defended his Intercontinental title against former champ Curtis Axel. It mostly struck me as an excuse to get Langston onto the show so fans are more accepting of him when that big push of his rolls around next year. The best part of the segment was a post-match interview in which Langston name dropped Boston two or three times. Obvious cheap pops need to be his new gimmick.

The Divas match was next and was better than I'd expected. But then I hadn't expected much. Natalya and Nikki won it for the Total Team, last eliminating Divas champion AJ Lee when she submitted to the Sharpshooter.

The match will almost certainly be remembered only for the announcers and Lilian Garcia acting as though the girl from Calgary were the sole survivor. Nikki, you see, was busy selling outside the ring and so got overlooked. Michael Cole would correct himself and his colleagues later in the broadcast. That's what you have to do when you get something wrong regarding the girlfriend of the face of the company.

That was followed by more of the comedic shenanigans of Randy Orton (a WWE sitcom webshow waiting to happen). He tried to get Charles Robinson, the referee for his match, to agree to, nudge nudge wink wink, call the match “right down the middle”. Robinson said he'd do what The Authority told him to then flounced off. The foremost thing on my mind as this was going on was the period of time when WCW was pushing Robinson as a top heel act.

A check-in with the show's expert panel, this month comprising Bret Hart, Mick Foley and a snappily dressed Booker T, barely got off the ground before Ryback's music played. This was not a technical glitch, 'The Big Guy' had decided that this was the optimum time for him to storm to the ring and issue an open challenge.

The challenge was accepted by the "returning" Mark Henry. Does an absence of less than two months qualify as a major return? It certainly does in WWE.

For the second time this year 'The World's Strongest Man' flattened (not literally) Ryback on pay-per-view. For a big man match it was good, and I'm not generally a fan of big man versus big man matches. Henners got the popular win with the World's Strongest Slam. WWE should line something interesting up for him for TLC: he got one of the best reactions on the show.

Back up in the skybox the expert panel put over Henry's win as something incredible. Presumably none of them tuned in to WrestleMania. They switched things up and talked about the clash between World champion John Cena and number one contender Alberto Del Rio. They put over ADR's cross armbreaker and discussed, at not inconsiderable length, Cena being in his hometown.

The World Heavyweight championship was on the line next. Del Rio got booed, but not as much as he could have been. The crowd just didn't seem massively into him as a threat to the championship. Which is entirely understandable: he'd lost to Cena, cleanly, a month before. The chances of him regaining the belt here were incredibly slim. Cena got the typically thunderous mixed reaction. This no longer comes as a surprise, even in his hometown.

The match didn't reach the heights of the previous clash at Hell in a Cell. But that had been a particularly good encounter with a less certain outcome. What they gave us here was enjoyable, and benefited from a lively crowd. That, more than anything else, is what Cena brings to his matches.

The finish saw both men attempting to apply their signature holds, with varying degrees of success. Eventually Cena (smoothly by his standards) slipped through a cross armbreaker attempt and slapped on the STF in the middle of the ring. 'The Essence of Excellence' took a rare tap out loss. Such is the power of Cena's loosely applied STF.

A comedy segment in the back, notable only for the return of John Laurinaitis, was followed by the Wyatt Family taking on CM Punk and Daniel Bryan. Bray Wyatt started things off with a short promo before he led his men to the ring. He'd seen in his dreams that the former WWE champions were tough but he still felt they should run. That was the gist.

The match was laid out to present Rowan and Harper as the more experienced team. Punk and Bryan weren't made to look like rookies, more guys unfamiliar with teaming who were drawing more on their work and success as singles wrestlers. It's how situations like these (two big singles stars facing guys lower down the pecking order who team regularly) should be booked. All the moves you'd expect got used, including Luke Harper's wonderful Gator Roll. That wasn't enough to get him and his partner a win though: Rowan was eliminated from proceedings with Bryan's running knee as Punk ducked a clothesline and scooped up Harper for the match-winning GTS.

After a tense stand-off the Wyatt boys retreated, leaving Punk and Bryan to celebrate their victory in the ring. Naturally the crowd were into that.

The final backstage segment of the night once again featured ‘The Apex Predator’. He walked into The Authority’s office to find them watching Cena getting his arm iced. The WHC assured the bosses he’d be fine for RAW and then left. Feeling jealous (because that’s what heels do) Orty asked what Cena had been doing with The Authority. Nobody answered so he stormed out of the room.

A video package recapped Big Show’s treatment at the hands of The Authority over the last few months. His firing, “multi-million dollar” lawsuit, and rehiring were all covered. The video did a particularly good job of covering why Big Show versus Randy Orton was actually happening, something I imagine a few people needed reminding of because it’s so uninspiring. It ended with the shot of Show slamming Orton through a table and Triple H saying that his treatment of the roster was all about, all together now, what was best for business.

As they had for much of the night, the crowd sang along with Big Show’s entrance music as he wandered to the ring. That’s something I desperately want to catch on with relation to Show, his music’s well suited to it. Orton’s entrance was less welcome: he was initially booed but the crowd had simmered down even by the time he’d reached the top of the ramp.

The two could not hope to better the evening’s previous action. The other world title match, the opener, and the Punk and Bryan tag match were all superior. By WWE PPV main event standards they didn’t get much time, and they spent a minute or so of it on Orton stalling at ringside at the start. When he entered the ring Orty got bounced around by his gargantuan challenger until he took control with, of all things, a drop kick. Moments later members of the audience broke into chants of “Randy’s dreadful!” and “Boring!”

Back on offence ‘The Giant’ smashed Orton into steels stairs and barriers at ringside, then went to climb to the top rope. As Show never does that it was clear from the start that it was a setup for Orton’s Draping DDT… which they botched when Orton pulled Show too far out of the corner and the big man was unable to support his own weight, resulting in him slumping down onto his feet to take a completely normal DDT.

The crowd reacted to a choke slam, but didn’t care about the subsequent cover. They knew Orton was going to kick out. Charles Robinson took a bump seconds after that, allowing Orton and Show to brawl at ringside well after the ten count. That excursion ended with a KO punch. The assumption over at the commentary desk was that this had won the match for Big Show. We’ll never know though, because he got distracted by Triple H’s music.

‘The Cerebral Assassin’ and Stephanie, with Kane looming behind them, stood in the aisle as Show shook his fist at them like a character in a seventies sitcom before turning round into an RKO. That was followed by ‘The Viper’s’ rarely seen punt kick, which give him the victory at just over the eleven minute mark.

Orton clutched his championship belt to him as The Authority sauntered to the ring clapping his efforts. Then, randomly, John Cena’s music hit and he walked down to the ring. He stopped to pose in between the McMahons, then slipped into the ring and pointed at his own shirt (which read “Even Stronger”) before posing some more. Orton seethed. Then they took it in turns to hold their titles up until the show went off the air.

If you’ve seen RAW you’ll know that this was done to set up a championship versus championship match between Orton and Cena at TLC. I’ll be posting thought on that separately (it’s a pretty big topic, after all) but my initial feeling is that this could be the start of a long term plan to turn Cena heel. It’s not likely but his interactions with The Authority gel nicely with the idea.

Survivor Series was not, on the whole, a bad show. The main event was a letdown but it was always going to be, and WWE at least had the sense and good grace to keep it short and fill it with brawling and other shortcuts. Outside of that everything else was either inoffensive or somewhere on the goodness scale. When it comes to WWE pay-per-views not named Royal Rumble, Money in the Bank or WrestleMania that’s about the best you can realistically hope for.

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