Team Raw vs Team Smackdown (Live)
WWE Survivor Series
Toyota Centre, Houston
19th November 2017
We open with the usual pulsating video package, most notable for Shane McMahon saying “#UnderSiege” out loud like it’s a normal thing. Raw are represented by Kurt Angle, Triple H, Braun Strowman, Samoa Joe and Finn Balor, while Smackdown (Live) number Shane McMahon, John Cena, Randy Orton, Shinsuke Nakamura and Bobby Roode.
Everyone’s out in the red and blue team jobber t-shirts that make them all look completely unremarkable, which is puzzling from a company supposedly focused on “telling stories” and larger-than-life characters. Triple H and Shane McMahon, the real stars, have custom versions with their insignia on, and John Cena isn’t even wearing blue at all. Sartorially, he’s really phoning it in. Get used to me saying that about his performance tonight.
Shane goes for Big Ol’ Braun to start, to little effect, and then quickly tags out as Trips gloats. Orton and Joe essay some exchanges thereafter. Joe is built like a bin so Orton is naturally tentative around him. They block each other’s finishers and have an indie standoff. Balor is in and Nakamura demands the tag and the crowd go nuts, as they’ve never tangled before in the Fed. Cole references their history in Full Sail and nowhere else, why would you ever think that? Sadly the crowd lets me down by chanting “NXT” and not the show where they first faced off one on one, “2014 New Japan Cup – Day 6”. The pair trade wristlocks and taunts to rapturous applause. I’m confident we’ll see a lot more out of Nakamura in this match, he certainly won’t be eliminated first after his usual half-assed effort.
Cole calls Nakamura “Shin”. No. And I believe that means “new”, as in “Shin Nihon Puroresu”. You know, that company neither of them have ever wrestled for.
Trips demands the tag and exchanges stomps with Nakamura. There are duelling chants for them both, which is most surreal. “Look at Shin go!” shouts Cole. No, he works for Dragon Gate.
Roode enters and the audience go mad, because Roode against Haitch is an obvious pairing; Bobby Roo cut his teeth in TNA as a Sainsbury’s Basics HHH long before he evolved (get it?) into the Sainsbury’s Basics Ric Flair we know and tolerate. Roode does his “GLORIOUS” taunt but gets socked, and Trips hits his still excellent spinebuster, but has the Pedigree reversed and then Roode hits a (nearly as good) Spiney B of his own. They attempt finishers unsuccessfully, and here comes the Olympic Hero.
“Angle hasn’t lost a step!” exults Cole as Kurt hits a trio of underwhelming German suplexes to Roode. An armdrag puts paid to any ideas of an Olympic Slam, and Nakamura tags in to kick Angle’s heid in. These two once had a match for the IWGP title, which I believe is some sort of hovercraft. Parkhead legend Shinsuke doles out knees not only to Angle but to an interfering Joe and Balor, then dodges a Pedigree and hits a kick to Trips. Sadly this brief and increasingly infrequent flurry of energy from Nakamura is ended as Braun comes in and pins him with a running powerslam.
Roode comes in and scores a top rope Blockbuster but the Monster Among(st) Men kicks out easily. Bobby tries it again and they botch the spot where the intended recipient catches the putative blockbusterer in a vertical suplex position (a favourite of Bobby Lashley and They Call Him Cage). Braun picks him up and hits the powerslam anyway, to put Raw 5-3 up.
Joe and Braun start beefing for no reason and the vets on the team try to keep them apart, but then start arguing themselves as well. Orton, characteristically, decides to advance the cause of blue lives mattering by shoving Kurt and Hunter into each other and gaining Smackdown (Live) some momentum. Vintage Orton to Trips and his gorgeous powerslam to Joe, and John Cena’s in to shout encouragement and pump the crowd up, which is basically all he does in this whole match. Braun lumbers into the ring to face both franchise players down. Cena tries an Attitude Adjustment but fails, in the same way he always used to fail to lift the Big Show. Google it, it can’t be done. Why else would the commentators always ask if John Cena could possibly accomplish such a herculean feat?
Strowman blocks the RKO too so Orton and Cena shoulder-charge him through the ropes. Braun punches Big Match John and starts taking the desk apart, but Orton and Cena recover and try a double suplex through the table. They still can’t do it, so the rest of their team, including the eliminated ones, propel Braun’s legs up and over to send him through the announcers’ table in a quite breathtaking visual. Shane checks he’s dead as one might a xenomorph, ascends to the top rope for an elbow drop to the floor, upon which Joe saves him from himself and belly-to-bellys him down into the ring. Shane uses his legendary MMA expertise to counter the Coquina Clutch and tags in Cena.
Cena and Joe do battle for a bit until Balor enters the fray. Finn goes for a stomp but Joe tags himself back in, gets AA’d, so does Balor, and finally Cena plants Joe with another one and gets the 3. He does a “come at me bro” pose at Angle and HHH, Kurt is in and the commentators reference Cena’s famous debut as part of the Kurt Angle Invitational in 2002. They do a series of gentle gobehinds and a ginger shoulder tackle from Angle leads to the commentators putting over that he still has it. Guys, I saw him live twice about a year ago. Sadly, he doesn’t. Angle interrupts Cena’s Five Moves of Doom with an ankle lock, hits an Olympic Slam which Shane breaks up, but while the ref’s back is turned Balor leaps in with a Coup de Grace. Another Olympic Slam puts Cena out, and one of the best in-ring wrestlers in WWE in the last two years is eliminated having done nothing besides take a few bumps and play hype man. I can’t blame Cena for having one foot out the door to Hollywood, but it still sucks.
Orton tries to target the leg Kurt has had heavily bandaged since about 2011, but Balor is here to run wild, sprinting all the way around the ring to dropkick Shane O’Mac into a wall, but soon missed another Coup de Grace attempt and falls to the RKO. 3-2 to Raw. Trips attacks Orton from behind, upon which Angle ascends to the top rope to join the assault. Before Kurt can hit his dive, which would surely have been his last act on Earth, Orton shoves Trips into him and looks for the tag to Shane. Yet disaster strikes, as Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens run in to take revenge on the Smackdown (Live) head honcho for the perceived disrespect shown to them in recent weeks. Shane sends both packing with a steel chair because a 47-year-old Stewart Lee lookalike who’s already wrestled over half an hour should definitely be getting the better of two hot young up-and-comers. Owens takes an RKO for good measure too. While Shane pursues the French-Canadians up the ramp, Orton gets mullered and pinned by the risen Braun. Shane, realising he’s got to fight three men on his own, looks worried. Maybe you shouldn’t have run off and let your partner get eaten you fucking eejit.
Trips aggravated Braun by tagging himself in, but the tagger becomes the taggee as Angle gazumps Hunter and it’s time for a captain vs. captain faceoff. The two men try to recapture some of that 2001 King of the Ring magic but sadly there are no glass windows or bins or working knees to help them out. Shane wrestles how I play the video games; move, pin attempt, move, pin attempt, move pin attempt. Shane then withstands the feared ankle lock for approximately five years until HHH comes over, Pedigrees Angle and pulls Shane on top for 3, staring at Braun the entire time.
For the final flourish, Trips sidles up to Shane, who’s at least deigning to sell his ankle. He acts like he’s joining Smackdown (Live), but it was all a cunning ruse! He grabs Shane and hits a Pedigree for 3 to give Raw the win. “RELEASE THE HOUNDS”, reads a sign in the background. Clearly not a Shield fan. Hunter raises the hand of Braun – the man who got more than half his team’s eliminations – but Strowman doesn’t take kindly to being a pawn in some obscure McMahon family plot and shouts at The Game a lot. HHH foolishly tries to Pedigree Braun but it’s easily countered into a running powerslam. Braun hits a second for good measure as the crowd pops, and we fade to black, as does my mood.
How It Defined 2017
If any one match of 2017 epitomised current WWE, this was it. There was a huge amount of talent involved who were, if not young (Strowman was the baby of the bunch at 34), at least new enough to the company that they still feel fresh. Strowman, Nakamura, Balor, Joe, Roode, and the interfering Owens and Zayn are people the company should be building up to be true main event superstars. So of course the last five men involved in the match included Triple H, Shane McMahon, Kurt Angle, and Randy Orton, who while at least belonging to a post-Attitude Era generation has been staler than an Andre Rieu CD for quite some time. Braun Strowman was booked excellently and looked like a beast, but even his rampage was overshadowed by what was seemingly this match’s primary purpose; to provide another instalment in the McMahon family psychodrama that has now been raging, on and off, for two decades, and to build to a Wrestlemania match between Triple H and Kurt Angle. Just no. Yes, it was great in 2000. But so were Leeds United.
WWE has been reliant on part-time wrestlers from the 90s and early 2000s to draw interest at Wrestlemania for a long time now. I understand the business logic behind that, to an extent. Casual fans who watch wrestling between zero and one times a year are likelier to tune in if they see that someone they remember from wrestling’s last commercial heyday is appearing. But there is absolutely no excuse for such a heavy emphasis on old timers at a less high profile show like Survivor Series. The way this match was laid out should give great concern to those who are still waiting for WWE to really pull the trigger on an appreciable number of the amazing wrestlers still clawing at the glass ceiling beneath Lesnar, Trips, Shane et al. On this score, it seems things are getting worse, not better as we enter 2018.
The most tragic thing is, this could have been really good.
The build was okay but fairly rote, and suffered from a syndrome WWE storylines have suffered from in the era of multiple PPVs themed, like Survivor Series, around a particular match type; namely, it feels less like the stipulation arises from the feud than the feud is constructed in order to get to the stipulation. If TLC is coming up you can guarantee that people are going to start twatting each other with tables, ladders and chairs (and stairs if you’re particularly unlucky), even if they’ve never shown any inclination to do so in other months. Similarly, there must be something in the water in November, because all of sudden the entire rosters of Raw and Smackdown (Live) seem to start hating each other with a fervent malice completely absent from their dealings the rest of the year.
The second problem is that having teams aligned by brand rather than the face/heel divide completely stalls most storylines, and makes no logical sense. And the third is that this isn’t the Monday Night Wars. People don’t particularly care about brand supremacy when both brands are owned by the same corporation and provide much the same product. It’s the difference between debating whether Five Guys is better than Byron Burgers, and arguing over which is the nicer of the two McDonald’s outside King’s Cross (it’s the one on the right, for the record). Making the men’s Survivor Series match the decider in a night-long series between red and blue teams isn’t going to help.
Yet none of that would have mattered too much if the match had been of a high standard, and had served WWE’s long-term purposes. After all, the men’s Survivor Series match in 2016 was Raw vs. Smackdown (Live), and it was excellent. Instead, what we got was simply poor. The first half of the match was fun, and provided some entertaining exchanges between some intriguing pairings; Balor and Nakamura, HHH and Roode, HHH and Nakamura. But it all fell off a cliff with a series of swerves that not only ground the pace almost to a halt but seemed to thoroughly confuse the crowd too, and which firmly created a lasting impression that the company still sees the new generation as of secondary importance to the old. While the previous night’s NXT War Games match (also covered by yours truly) was a stipulation match that proved a worthy entry into an old tradition, this was the opposite. I know it’s become cliché to juxtapose NXT, with which the company does so much right, with the moribund main roster shows, but they should stop making it so goddamn easy.