Naturally this made many people, me included, recall the Deadly Game tournament. That was a fourteen man tournament held at the 1998 Survivor Series (Undertaker and Kane got a bye to the second round), also held to crown a new champion, which famously ended with an homage to the Montreal Screwjob™, then only a year in the past.
I've got a soft spot for Survivor Series '98. It was the first major show to take place after I started watching wrestling and it had a catchy theme tune. It was also the pinnacle of the Russo booking approach, allowing him to utilise all of his strengths and disguise his many, many (many) weaknesses (you can read more on that here). All of which means that this fantasy booking piece (and let's not kid ourselves, I was always going to do a fantasy booking piece on this) has some similarities to the Deadly Game tournament.
Let's start with the November 9 RAW. I'd like to acknowledge the fact that the show would be taking place exactly eighteen years after the Montreal Screwjob took place. But I wouldn't because that would be too on the nose. Instead I'd simply have The Authority announce four qualifying-slash-first round matches for the show and another four for the November 12 SmackDown. The men chosen would be hyped up as amongst the best wrestlers in the company, nay the world (true for some, not others).
The reason I'd be booking qualifying matches is to fill TV time. Without the originally planned Rollins and Reigns programme there'd be little to build to at the pay-per-view beyond the Wyatts eight man tag against Undertaker and Kane. With no main event to promote the sensible thing would be to focus on the tournament, and the best way of doing that would be to include more matches and spread them out on TV. It also has the benefit of making it seem like the guys who make it to the final have achieved more, going through one more round.
|This match feels overdue.
The four RAW matches would be Dolph Ziggler v Tyler Breeze, Dean Ambrose v Kevin Owens, Bray Wyatt v Ryback, and Roman Reigns v Sheamus. Ziggler and Breeze's first match seems overdue and it couldn't hurt 'Prince Pretty' to debut in a world title tournament. They'd have the longest match of the four, allowing Breeze to look competitive in defeat. Owens and Ambrose feels like another suitably big first round match and one that people couldn't be absolutely certain of a winner for. It would also tie into their burgeoning rivalry and be a natural main event for RAW. KO would go over via some sort of shady tactics leading to a pop-up power bomb.
Wyatt and Ryback would be kept short because I don't think they'd work particularly well together and they'd have a storyline finish to protect 'The Eater of Worlds'. Some crazy lighting effects would distract him and allow Ryback to get a Shellshock for the victory. These lighting effects would obviously be attributed to 'Taker and 'The Big Red Machine' and their magical powers, keeping that rivalry relevant and adding another reason for their Survivors match.
Reigns versus Sheamus would be the shortest of the bunch. Sheamus would wrestle for a bit before grabbing his Money in the Bank briefcase and walloping Reigns with it. The commentary team would hypothesise that 'The Celtic Warrior' was deliberately disqualified to hurt Reigns, the favourite, and because he has his guaranteed title match thanks to the 'case, making his participation in the tourney redundant. Shaymo would gloat about exactly this in an interview later in the evening.
The four SmackDown bouts would be Big E v Mark Henry, Adrian Neville v Kalisto, Alberto Del Rio v The Miz, and Cesaro v Stardust. These guys all feel like SmackDown regulars, meaning it's not an unrealistic batch of guys to book in these matches. Big E v Henry would be a standard short match. E would win with interference from Woods and Kingston. Neville v Kalisto would be the second longest of the evening and be designed to showcase the skills of both lads. Kalisto would get the win. This would be intended as a surprise although I don't know if it would be that big a deal. It's not like Nev has been built up since his main roster debut.
Del Rio and Miz would be an awkward heel versus heel match but those are okay occasionally. And, for the record, there's no real reason ADR should be considered a heel right now. All he's done is come back, beat Cena, and show pride in being Mexican. What's bad any f that? So he could play face in this match before switching back to his aggressive heel ways for the pay-per-view matches. Cesaro v Stardust would be the SmackDown main event. Cesaro could pummel Konnor and Viktor on his way to a decisive win, playing off whatever the Cosmic Wasteland watching Cesaro from the crowd over the last few weeks was meant to lead to.
The November 16 RAW would feature the predictable Survivor Series elimination match featuring the eight quarter finalists: Ziggler, Cesaro, Reigns and Kalisto v Owens, Del Rio, Ryback and Big E. Ryback aside this would be heels versus faces, and I'd want to position 'The Big Guy' as a subtle heel for the PPV itself (more on that below). Reigns and Cesaro would be the sole survivors for their teams and the commentary lads would hype up that the brackets are laid out in such a way that Cesaro v Reigns could be the final match. Also on this episode of RAW Ambrose would have a backstage segment discussing Owens and Sheamus, the purpose of which would be to keep that issue alive and tease Ambrose interfering at in Owens' tourney matches and watching out for a Sheamus cash-in after he attacked Ambrose great buddy Roman.
I'd want the Survivor Series show to reuse the old Deadly Game theme. I doubt that's possible because WWE probably signs deals that prevent using anything except the generic theme songs that are the norm now, but I'd like it to happen.
|Push this man.
The show would open with Ziggler falling to Owens in five or six minutes. It wouldn't be overly long because 'Mr Wrestling' would need to look dominant for the night ahead. Match two would see Del Rio defeat Kalisto. Their match would be all about Kalisto constantly trying to get flash wins and ADR trying to slow him down and create some distance. He'd win with the cross armbreaker. Losing to such an established move shouldn't hurt li'l Kally. That would be followed by Cesaro pinning Big E. He could again be booked to look like a beast by overcoming a pair of seconds at ringside, this time Kofi and Xavier.
Match four would be Reigns v Ryback. The idea with making this match would be to put Reigns against one of the few guys his detractors likely want to see as world champion even less than him. Having Ryback leave his face mannerisms in the dressing room for the evening would help with that. It's not a guarantee that the crowd would side with Reigns but I think there's a strong chance they would. Reigns would get worked over for a bit before making a comeback and winning with the spear and Superman punch (because this layout seems to have worked well for Reigns this year).
That would cue up the first non-tournament match. Not that it's important to the pupose of wat I'm writing about here but I'd have that be the Charlotte v Paige Divas championship match. I like the idea of having a tag team tables match between New Day and the Dudley Boyz too but that would probably go on the pre-show. The Duds would finally get their big win over New Day. That's overdue. The feud needs to end.
The first semi-final match would be Kevin Owens v Cesaro. The idea here would be to enhance the standing of both men by having them progress this far. They'd add to that with an even match. Owens would win, the idea being to encourage people to boo him because he'd have eliminated a genuine fave in 'The Swiss Superman'. Meanwhile the logic behind going with Reigns v Del Rio would be to have Reigns beat another guy that people wouldn't actually want to see win. The crowd and viewers would be encouraged to back Reigns because he'd be knocking off "boring" tournament entrants.
Those matches would be followed by the Wyatt Family v Kane and Undertaker match (no idea who'd be partnering with the Brothers of Destruction, it wouldn't really be a priority). 'Taker would really have to be the sole survivor for his team, wouldn't he? Because it's his twenty-fifth anniversary in the company and he's a face. But I'd overlook that and have the match come down to 'The Dead Man' and Wyatt then have Wyatt win. Because Wyatt is more important to the future of WWE than 'The Phenom'. Plus Wyatt winning and spoiling the anniversary should get him some solid heat.
Which just leaves the main event. There's a lot I'd want to include in this and I'm aware it will probably read as overbooking (it probably would be overbooking if it happened). But I think that's okay occasionally. It certainly sounds more appealing than yet another main event in which Seth Rollins wins by being flukey. So here's what I'd do...
|Reigns v Owens feels like a good tournament final to me.
The match would be announced as a no DQ affair with the declaration that "there must be a winner." Triple H and Stephanie would walk to ringside before the start of the match, prompting Michael Cole to rattle off Survivor Series Screwjob info, reminding us that 'The Cerebral Assassin' was in on the original Montreal happenings. I'd want to have at least fifteen minutes for the match itself when the bell rang at the beginning of Owens v Reigns. They'd have a straight match for ten minutes, trading the advantage and trying to keep people guessing on who'd win.
Owens would go for the Sharpshooter at around the ten minute mark, which should be a reliable reaction-getter considering the circmstances. Reigns would counter that into a roll-up for a two count. At which point Sheamus would stride to the ring. We'd get a reaction shot of The Authority looking concerned and Sheamus would get into the ring and Brogue kick Reigns. 'Great White' would then hand in his briefcase, making the match a three-way in a call back to the WrestleMania main event. He'd turn around into a pummelling from a recently arrived Ambrose. Owens would recover and save Sheamus from 'The Lunatic Fringe'.
The heels would give Ambrose a kicking. By this point Triple H would be up on the apron shouting and trying to get some order over the situation. Reigns would return to his feet from the Brogue kick and drop Reigns with a spear. Owens would hit Reigns with a pop-up power bomb. Reigns would kick out. Owens would sell disbelief and stagger towards the ropes, where Helmsley would clamber into the ring and give him a Pedigree.
Reigns would then return to his feet and, after a stare off with 'The Game', apply the Sharpshooter. Trips would immediately signal for the bell to be rung and hand the title belt to Reigns. Steph would join them in the ring. Shaymo would walk up the aisle looking angry at having wasted his magical briefcase. Owens would lay on the mat selling. Ambrose would confront Roman and be dropped with a Superman punch. The show would go off the air with Reigns, Triple H and Stephanie recreating the famous shot of The Rock (Roman's cousin remember) celebrating with Vince and Shane at Survivor Series 1998.
Yes, it's convoluted and a bit messy. It would hopefully get tidied up a bit before the night. But this would be the gist of what I'd go for because it makes use of all the things people would expect the finals to play on: the corrupt bosses at ringside, a Money in the Bank cash-in, Ambrose interference (his mere presence would get people suspicious that he'd cost Reigns the match), a WrestleMania 31 reference, and, of course, the Sharpshooter finish. It would set up Sheamus, Owens and Ambrose as challengers for Reigns and position Owens for a babyface run, something I think he's well suited for right now. The tournament as a whole would also have helped raise the profile of Cesaro and Kalisto, two guys who WWE could and should be doing more with.
Most importantly in turning Reigns heel fans would be encouraged to vent any frustration they may have over him and his largely failed babyface run(s). When he turned babyface again the animosity should be gone and he should be more actively embraced. People need to see him in a new role and be given reason to back him. There's no light Reigns is better role right now that big, mean asskicker. Giving Reigns time as the top, corrupt heel, especially if he were booked to trounce everyone who challenged him, would actually get him over in the long term as a face. That's the character he should play and this is the way to introduce it.
First round RAW matches:Dolph Ziggler defeats Tyler Breeze
Roman Reigns defeats Sheamus via disqualification
Ryback defeats Bray Wyatt
Kevin Owens defeats Dean Ambrose
First round SmackDown matches:Big E defeats Mark Henry
Alberto Del Rio defeats The Miz
Kalisto defeats Adrian Neville
Cesaro defeats Stardust
Second round matches:Kevin Owens defeats Dolph Ziggler
Alberto Del Rio defeats Kalisto
Roman Reigns defeats Ryback
Cesaro defeats Big E
Semi-final matches:Roman Reigns defeats Alberto Del Rio
Kevin Owens defeats Cesaro
Final match:Roman Reigns defeats Kevin Owens and Sheamus