22nd November 2015.
We’re in Atlanta, Georgia for the 25th Anniversary of the Undertaker show. WWE has been hyping Taker all week on the Network, aiming to get across the importance of his career and his influence on the WWF landscape over the years. A quarter of a century is a long time for any character but a WWE one? It’s almost unheard of. Longevity in wrestling is nothing new but the way in which the Undertaker has achieved what he’s achieved has been nothing short of amazing.
On a completely different note; Survivor Series was placed on a threat list this week, with ISIS rumoured to be targeting the event for a terrorist attack. In typical blusterous Vince McMahon fashion the show always goes on. WWE have been in contact with various law enforcement branches of the American government, thus making this one of the safest major wrestling events in the history of the pseudo sport. Even more so than the bomb-scare threatened WrestleMania VII.
Almost lost in all this hoopla is the WWE championship, vacant for the first time since Daniel Bryan’s 2014 injury necessitated a ladder match to crown a new champion. The tournament to crown the champion was an obvious one but with Undertaker, Kane, Bray Wyatt, Randy Orton, John Cena and Brock Lesnar all missing. The resultant field was a competitive one but one lacking in star power, considering the prize at the end of the rainbow. The resulting tournament has been Roman Reigns dominating one side of the bracket and Dean Ambrose vs. Kevin Owens the obvious semi-final on the other side. From there is where WWE can take us on a story. Will Reigns overcome the odds and triumph against the Authority’s wishes? Will He join forces with Triple H and become a corporate champion? Will the Authority pick any of the four remaining participants to replace Seth Rollins? Will Sheamus cash in his Money in the Bank shot? All will be revealed at Survivor Series. Expect screwjobs.
WWE Championship Tournament Semi-Final
Roman Reigns vs. Alberto Del Rio
I’m pleased to see both United States and Intercontinental champions being represented in the tournament to the semi-final stage. Even if the bigger story seems to involve the Authority and the former Shield members. Del Rio’s return has been an odd one. The partnership with Zeb Coulter doesn’t make sense and the storyline has, so far, felt forced. Like any chosen champion of Vince McMahon, Roman Reigns gets a heavily mixed reaction from the crowd. Unlike John Cena, he doesn’t have to stay babyface though and that’s what makes him more interesting as a personality. Will he stay true to his beliefs? We are increasingly in an era where the traditional babyface doesn’t exist anymore. Cena is as close to that out there and he’s roundly booed every time he wrestles. Even Triple H, shown watching on a monitor backstage, gets a mixed reaction. Fans view him as a heel for his onscreen persona but also love him for NXT and his headline career. The storyline in this match is one established on Raw last week where Roman has a bad shoulder. The idea being that it eliminates the Spear and the Superman Punch, Roman’s main two offensive weapons. Not that it stops Roman from using his arm. He just grimaces afterwards and not even that when it comes to the Superman Punch. There’s also a mind-bogglingly stupid spot where he hauls Del Rio up into a one-arm powerbomb with the injured arm. So the entire match is rendered pointless, albeit with a big-match atmosphere. Especially on the near falls like Roman getting suckered into the First Flash. The other aspect of the arm work is Del Rio getting the armbar on that injured limb. Reigns hits the Spear with the bad arm to win. Bags of effort but the storytelling and psychology was all over the place in this match. Could Roman have not found another way to win? It makes him look like a poor worker for not being able to think of a Plan B to overcome Del Rio’s Plan A.
Final Rating: **
Video Control takes us to Roman for a live interview, which he botches horribly, forgetting his lines. Kevin Owens comes in to save him. Owens assertion that he’ll stop Reigns tonight gets a raucous pop.
WWE Championship Tournament Semi-Final
Dean Ambrose vs. Kevin Owens
Ambrose gets a big pop but Owens gets a bigger pop. He’s rapidly becoming the people’s choice to carry the company forward. Ambrose has the whole Steve Austin gimmick going for him, which is referenced quite often. He’s a guy that has an anti-authority persona that people connect to. What’s clear is either one of these guys would be a more interesting champion than Roman Reigns. The best thing about Owens is that he’s not afraid to be a heel. He’ll quite happily put a match in the cooler and coast through on hate. As much as I appreciate work-rate there’s something about a guy who can control the crowd without any sizzle. That’s the stuff champions are made of. The work is fairly basic with the odd quality counter. It’s designed to give both men an easy route through to the final. It’s a smarter worked match than the Reigns-Del Rio one, albeit not as interesting. Owens litters the match with fun spots like a missed moonsault or the Avalanche Fisherman Buster. Their spots click together at times too like the Popup Powerbomb being countered into the Rebound Lariat. Ambrose goes to the well and runs into a superkick but then the Popup is countered into a rana. It’s great counter wrestling. Ambrose ends up catching Owens with Dirty Deeds to make it an all Shield final. Owens proved he belonged on the top rung here, putting together a far superior match to the preceding one and making Ambrose look as good as he has all year.
Final Rating: ***1/4
Survivor Series Elimination Match
Ryback, The Lucha Dragons (Kalisto & Sin Cara) & The Usos vs. The New Day (Xavier Woods, Big E & Kofi Kingston), Sheamus & King Barrett
Xavier Woods has outstanding hair this evening, channelling The Cat from Red Dwarf. As per usual the New Day entertain with their mic skills and even Sheamus amuses by claiming they’re about to “get jiggy on these posers”. Even Michael Cole is scoring points off Sheamus. “Sheamus should cash in his Money in the Bank to get a new personality”. Oh, it’s a deep burn. The match is pretty entertaining too, with the faces coordinating a stereo four-man dive. JBL finds a number of entertaining sources to riff off during the match including Jerry Lawler’s Survivor match with the midgets, mocking Cole’s “referees, technicians, EMTS down” line replacing it with “Irishmen and Unicorns” and comparing Ryback to the Hindenburg. Oh the humanity! I’ve never been that into JBL as a commentator but when his references start clicking he’s really entertaining. Especially compared to Lawler who has completely lost the plot. Barrett is first man out, dumped by Sin Cara’s Swanton off the middle of the top rope. 5-4 faces.
Traditionally you don’t want your heels chasing the odds. Xavier double stomps Jimmy Uso to square things up. 4-4.
The New Day and Lucha Dragons interaction is so good that it wouldn’t hurt WWE to build the Dragons up as challengers for the tag championships. It’s not like they have a stream of potential champions in the tag ranks. Brogue Kick puts Sin Cara out, thus allowing the New Day to escape the Dragons and it creates tension between Big E and Sheamus over who scored the pin. 4-3 heels.
The miscommunication is enough for Big E to eat a Superfly Splash off Jay Uso to leave the New Day a man down. 3-3.
The New Day determine this ‘injury’ to be so severe that they need to tend to Big E and all leave. This leaves Sheamus against Jay, Kalisto and Ryback. With the New Day departing it’s like the air is sucked out of the arena and there’s not much investment in the remaining characters. The only reason for doing this is to tire Sheamus out to insure he’s not able to cash in his Money in the Bank later. To show how interested he is in the match Jerry Lawler is on Twitter. I get WWE likes social media but shouldn’t it be encouraging people to watch the product? Lawler is terrible at the best of times but talking about his re-tweets during a match is unbearable. The faces do some nice tagging during a triple team sequence and Shellshock finishes for the faces. Survivors: Ryback, Jay Uso & Kalisto. This whole match was odd and as soon as the New Day left it lost all crowd interest.
Final Rating: **1/4
WWE Divas Championship
Charlotte (c) vs. Paige
This has been coming since Charlotte and Becky Lynch got called up to the main roster and paired up with Paige. The veteran, Paige, is content to play the heel role. She moans and complains and makes Charlotte look bigger and stronger than her without turning Charlotte heel. Like with the men, there’s no real clear cut babyfaces in the divas division and they all get mixed reactions. That’s just how wrestling is nowadays. The crowd don’t really respond thanks to Paige taking a methodical pace and the storyline not drawing people in. The ending segment to Raw last week did not help matters. It was supposed to make this personal, turn it into a blood feud but instead it turned people off and Charlotte’s lack of aggression demonstrates how the whole angle has failed. The intensity picks up with a battling Figure Four and Charlotte starts channelling her Dad. Paige seems a bit put-off by the lack of crowd reaction and starts doing small arena stuff like yelling at the fans. There’s nothing worse than working in front of a dead crowd. The crowd finally makes itself heard by chanting “we want Sasha”. That about sums up the apathy toward long-term established divas like Paige as she’s been in this dead division for years. Paige showboats a bit, which costs her and Charlotte taps her with the Figure Eight. The crowd hurt this as they didn’t care at all and it definitely effected the wrestlers.
Final Rating: **1/4
Video Control gives us a chatty showdown between Dean Ambrose and Roman Reigns. Neither man gives anything away. Nobody says the patented “I’ll do anything to win the title” line that gives away a heel turn.
Tyler Breeze vs. Dolph Ziggler
“Look everyone, it’s Tyler!” I honestly didn’t realise how highly I rated Tyler Breeze and enjoyed his shtick until he arrived on the main roster and fitted right in. There’s a telling moment pre-match where Tyler is doing the selfie thing and Summer tries to pose with him and he raises the camera over her head. I doubt Tyler’s character is even aware Summer Rae is there. This is an odd contest as neither man is that interested in the woman they’re supposedly fighting over and they both usually work from the bottom. They tend to get beaten up a lot. In facing each other they have a chance to show something more. Although that dynamic doesn’t always work (see Shawn Michaels vs. Mr Perfect for proof). They do click quite well but the crowd doesn’t respond much, although not to the degree of the last match. The finish is sudden with Tyler Breeze hitting the Unprettier as JBL makes Shawn Michaels references. I’m glad they had Tyler go over here as Dolph is job proof and Breeze needed a win to establish himself.
Final Rating: **1/2
The Wyatt Family (Bray Wyatt & Luke Harper) vs. The Brothers of Destruction
This whole Wyatt vs. BOD angle seems to be forgetting that Wyatt tried to crush the spirit of the Undertaker earlier in the year, at WrestleMania, and failed. A lot of the crowd are here for Taker and he gets a big reaction as he’s such a special attraction. He’s coming off a solid feud against Brock Lesnar too so even the newer fans have fresh memories of excellence. My personal favourite Undertaker is the Phantom of the Opera one from 1996 after Mabel broke his face. The Wyatt’s select their two best wrestlers for this venture, beforehand having suggested it’d be any two of their four members. Luckily this leaves Braun Strowman at ringside and the more capable Harper takes the bumps. It’s harsh on Harper, as he’s the only one who can make Taker and Kane look good, that he has to take all the abuse. It makes his character look like a punk and Strowman look strong, when he’s actually garbage. Harper has the better offence too. They try some weird creepy psychology from the Wyatts only for the Brothers to zombie sit up. Seeing as Bray is the money man in the Wyatt Family poor Harper has to take the Tombstone as well. Match was mostly a nostalgia trip and was rarely any good as a contest.
Final Rating: *1/4
WWE World Heavyweight Championship
Roman Reigns vs. Dean Ambrose
Poor Roman Reigns, he’s been booked to be the top babyface in the company all year and can’t catch a break. Mainly because Vince McMahon wanted to turn him into a goofy babyface like John Cena, which turned half the crowd on the poor guy. As a result his push has been truncated several times and he’s been forced into rebuilding programs. Meanwhile Ambrose hasn’t been up to the top and been booked wrong, he’s always been bubbling under and not given the push when he was hot. Now they’re both in the final match because of circumstance. Roman had this title shot anyway and, from a storytelling perspective, was likely to overcome Seth Rollins in the original booking of Survivor Series. Instead he finds himself opposite his ‘brother’ in a babyface match. Ambrose takes a cerebral approach, using the existing arm injury to his benefit and being less afraid to take it to his ‘brother’. It subtly makes him the heel, turning the neutrals and kids into Roman fans to even out the crowd. The crowd is again on the quiet side so Roman hits early big spots like the Superman Punch and the Spear for near falls. It’s a little odd that Ambrose didn’t see either one coming, although the Punch is at least out of mid-air. When Roman kicks out of the Dirty Deeds it feels like they’ve blown their wad inside ten minutes. When it’s feeling underwhelming Roman hits another Spear for the belt and that’s it. They shot for epic and came up a bit short but it was a decent sprint.
Final Rating: **1/2
Tangent: WWE’s insistence at firing off a shit-load of pyro after the match is over is not a particularly good idea. The ISIS threat must have had a few of the audience members on edge and the timing of the explosions is unnecessary. Especially with a million tonnes of confetti falling into the ring.
Post Match: Triple H joins us to offer a handshake to Roman Reigns as the new champion and Roman hits the Spear! It’s not winning the belt that defines Roman here, it’s defying Triple H!
WWE World Heavyweight Championship
Roman Reigns (c) vs. Sheamus
And God damn it, Sheamus is cashing in. Brogue Kick and Sheamus pins Roman in the confetti to win the belt. “Are you kidding me?” yells Cole. Well, there was a load of debate as to how the WWE would book a difficult Survivor Series and they went for the most predictable and worst possible booking route. Sheamus is the least deserving heavyweight champion since Randy Orton’s rotten Daniel Bryan blocking run a few years ago, and putting him with Triple H is even worse as it means the Authority endorses their second duff champion in three attempts. Congratulations, guys, another creative disaster.
Final Rating: DUD
Summary: It was a mediocre show with only a few bouts really delivering. The conclusion of the show was a total bummer and I’m pretty sure, in line with our various declarations of late, no one will be covering Raw tomorrow because no one at History of Wrestling actually wants to watch a product with Sheamus on top of it. The Sheamus thing makes no sense. Why him? Why didn’t Ambrose stick around to stop him? Did nobody think this might happen? Worst major show of the year. Most disappointing booking decision of the year. I was fairly hyped to watch this show, wondering what booking direction WWE would go in, and it fell horribly flat. One can only hope Sheamus loses the belt swiftly and we can forget this event ever happened. The worst part of all this is that WWE had the opportunity to do something drastically new and exciting and they opted to avoid that completely. Wouldn’t an Authority backed Kevin Owens have been a better move here? Thumbs down and let’s hope someone backstage has the grapefruits to sort this out as quickly as possible.