Monday, November 24, 2014

It's SHOWTIME: Survivor Series '14 Review

Never thought I'd see this...
Photo Credit:
TH STYLE, Y'ALL. You can still catch this for free if you get The Network before next Monday.

  • To top off the show, Vince McMahon announced that if Team Cena won the main event, the only person who could reinstate Stephanie McMahon and Triple H to their positions within the active company would be John Cena.
  • The Miz and Damien Sandow became WWE Tag Team Champions when Sandow tagged himself into the match and pinned Goldust after he'd been hit with several finishing maneuvers.
  • The team of Natalya, Emma, Alicia Fox, and Naomi won a clean sweep against Paige, Layla, Summer Rae, and Cameron. The final elimination came when Naomi hit Paige with the Rear View and a stiff-looking seated leg-scissor driver into a pinfall.
  • Bray Wyatt successfully led Dean Ambrose into temptation, gaining a disqualification victory when Ambrose hit him with a chair. After the match, Ambrose put Wyatt through a table, and then piled all kinds of detritus on top of him before looking out at the crowd from atop a ladder.
  • The Bunny and Adam Rose defeated Slater Gator when the Bunny hit Heath Slater with a missile dropkick for the pin.
  • Nikki Bella defeated AJ Lee for the Divas Championship in short order. Brie Bella sneaked a kiss on Lee from the apron, causing distraction enough for Nikki to hit the Rack Attack for the win.
  • To the surprise of absolutely no one, Wyatt vs. Ambrose in a TLC match was announced for the titular event.
  • Sting made his first ever appearance in a WWE ring to put an end to Triple H's shenanigans in the main event. He hit the now-former in-character boss with a Scorpion Death Drop, allowing Dolph Ziggler to pin Seth Rollins and get the win for Team Cena in the main event.

General Observations:
  • It's hard to defend a generally solid WWE pay-per-view product from accusations that it's just a glorified version of its rather watered-down free TV RAW when shit like opening the show with a 20 minute, Triple H-centric promo segment happens. Seriously, no matter how "good" Trips is right now in his authority role, I don't need to see him chew up 20 minutes every week once let alone more than once.
  • Stardust entered with red-themed ring gear,which led me to believe he'd been recruited into the Red Lantern Corps.The actual best part about that assumption was I noticed a decided meanstreak in him during the match. Cody Rhodes is actually a giant nerd in real life...
  • One of the Matadores, I couldn't tell you which, started off the match with Stardust with some nifty footwork, going from a Mortal Kombat-style leg sweep countering Stardust running the ropes into Rob van Dam's signature leg scissor pin. For the first time since donning the masks, Los Matadores showed me something more than "generic Latin stereotype."
  • Damien Sandow spent the first five or so minutes on the apron with the crowd begging for him to come in. Miz finally tagged him in, and right before he could get to work, Goldust blind-tagged himself in. Brilliant move in delaying the actual payoff there.
  • At one point, Stardust answered the "WE WANT MIZDOW" chants by yelling "NO YOU DON'T, YOU WANT STARDUST." I detected some jealousy, which is just greed for attention. Maybe Stardust was really the Orange Lantern?
  • And of course, the Dust Bros. and Los Matadores topped that combo move with some kind of super combo Tower of Doom spot in the corner leaving all four wrestlers mangled.
  • I swear, I thought the roof was going to cave in when Sandow snaked the pin. Utter brilliant way to cap off the match.
  • Adam Rose and The Bunny were shown backstage presumably blowing off their beef while advertising for the newest WWE action figures, when Slater Gator just moseyed on back to set up a match for later on. Are you sure this show wasn't just an enhanced RAW script?
  • Titus O'Neil, when hearing that the Bunny looked up to Adam Rose as a "hero," quipped "Naw, he didn't say hero, he said 'gyro,'" which for someone who used to work at a Greek-owned diner was pretty darn clever.
  • Of course Tyson Kidd came out for the women's elimination match with Natalya, although he didn't really play much of a role during the match.
  • JBL tried getting back into my good graces by shouting out Aja Kong as the most dominant performance in a women's Survivor Series match history. It was going to take a lot more than that to get me liking him again, but at least he knows good joshi when he sees it.
  • Naomi threw a roundhouse kick from the apron that made me do a spit take at how stiff and quick it got thrown.
  • Summer Rae at one point started working the arm, which was short-lived but still kinda surreal to see.
  • Alicia Fox may be a different alignment from week to week, but she shows her versatility every time out. Her fire after Cameron got eliminated from the other team was worthy of any babyface on the show save perhaps Dolph Ziggler in the main event, culminating in a gnarly looking cross-body on Paige, Summer Rae, and Layla.
  • Emma got a chance to work in her spots, and the crowd reacted to her. It's not rocket science.
  • Natalya got Paige in for a German suplex, and well, let's just say that I thought the ref needed to check Paige for signs of life afterwards. That suplex was early-'90s AJW levels of brutal-looking.
  • Having a clean sweep for the tecnicos here felt like a baffling decision, but at least the women got a really long time to work. For as long as it was, they acquitted themselves well.
  • Of course, Kidd mugging for the camera in front of Natalya was a highlight, certainly more enjoyable than anything he's done on NXT lately for me.
  • Dean Ambrose tried an over-the-top rope diving press on Bray Wyatt early in their match, and Wyatt countered it with a perfectly-timed slap to the mush on the falling Ambrose. It was a piece of proof that the complexity or risk associated with a move isn't what makes it great, but it's all in the timing and the gravity.
  • Wyatt punished Ambrose on the outside by working his hand over, which gave me the biggest heart-eyes. I love when crazy or sadistic characters go after the hands and fingers because it's a special degree of hurt when you take on the hands. Then Ambrose escaped a full-nelson by biting and grabbing at Wyatt's fingers. It was like they were two sons competing for the affections of a father's heart.
  • That double lariat spot on the outside looked brutal, not just because it was on the outside of the ring with the harder landing surface, but because they went HARD into each other.
  • Wyatt grabbed a microphone and started appealing to the "Lunatic Fringe" side of Ambrose, basically tempting him to go nuts on him with a chair. Ambrose more than obliged and basically pulled out all the tables and chairs he could find en route to burying Wyatt under a pile of detritus before ascending a ladder to look out upon his adoring fans. My main problem here wasn't the face beating down on the heel after the match as an ass-backwards way of setting up the rematch. Remember, Bray Wyatt is supposed to be different. The beatdown here by Ambrose was presumably what Wyatt wanted. Hell, it's what he wanted Cena to do at WrestleMania and all the events after during their feud. My problem was that the match was an extended commercial with a limp, dick-teased finish that expressly was meant to set up resolution at TLC. It was basically the Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest of wrestling matches, and the DQ finish into the SPECIFIC PLUNDER was basically the weird shaman lady at the end saying the crew needed to go to AT WORLD'S END WINK WINK NUDGE NUDGE.
  • Honestly, I care more about what Hornswoggle is doing more than I care about the dissolution of the Rosebuds. Wake me up when Adam Rose decapitates the Bunny and turns back into Leo Kruger, thx.
  • Oh joy, a Roman Reigns satellite interview! And when asked what he was going to do when he came back, he said he was going to cock his fist and "make it rain in that bitch." Everyone who wanted the Attitude Era back had better be thrilled with this fucking direction, because it's exactly what you want.
  • The best part of John Cena's lame Gipper speech was Erick Rowan in the background doing a Rubik's Cube. Rowan as an idiot savant with a propensity to wear sheep masks and quote superfluous sequels could be a nice sweet spot for him.
  • In a theoretical company where gay people are out and it's not a big deal and that didn't have a gross history of "HLA" as a storyline conceit, Brie Bella kissing AJ Lee in order to DANIEL BRYAN her into losing to Nikki Bella would have been fantastic. But WWE using queer-baiting tactics feels super cheap at this point.
  • Additionally, I saw a billion reactions on Twitter wishing Lee well in her future endeavors playing into the rumors that she would be leaving after the match last night. If anything, a finish like that indicates she'll be back for a good while so she could get revenge on both Bella sisters.
  • Also, Brie's obvious heel turn last night was almost missed in the misogynist cacophony provided by JBL. Michael Cole was earnestly trying to get it over as a turn, but he kept getting derailed. Cole can be saved. He just needs to be in there without enablers on either side of him.
  • Oh hey, and right between the Divas Championship and main event matches, WWE announced Ambrose/Wyatt: AT WORLD'S END for TLC.
  • Mark Henry got a pep talk from Triple H before walking into an immediate KTFO punch and ultra-fast elimination. WWE Daniel Bryan'd Lee and Henry with consecutive falls on one pay-per-view event. Every single road agent needs to get at least a stern talking to over that layout. Christ.
  • I'm not sure I will ever tire at seeing Big Show's anti-aircraft missile chops picking dudes off midair, especially when the guy selling it is Seth Rollins.
  • Ryback being the first man out for Team Cena seemed baffling in the short term after he was built up, but wouldn't it make sense for The Authority to target him first for personal and strategic reasons? His elimination is going to need some follow-up, sure, and that's a tricky thing to ask anyone to do, but I'm fine with it for now.
  • It didn't take too long for Dolph Ziggler to hit FULL ZIGGLER taking a corner Flatliner from Rollins that looked looser than the German Paige took earlier in the night. Ziggler couldn't let someone in the second match on the show upstage him, you know.
  • That corner sequence led to a patented Finisher-O-Rama which led to Rowan back-body-dropping Rollins over the top rope onto the fray on the outside. Not to be outdone, Rusev took Ziggler and POWERBOMBED him to the outside onto the throng. WWE turned into a super-indie on steroids so gradually, I hardly even noticed.
  • When Rusev cleared off the Spanish announce table, I knew he was going to end up going through it to be counted out. HE didn't just go through it; Ziggler moved out of the way and Rusev WIPED OUT on a splash that broke the table. It was the best countout Survivor Series elimination ever, and the best countout finish I've seen period since Mark Henry put Sheamus through a barricade at SummerSlam '11.
  • After Rowan got discus'd out of the match, Show and Cena stared down Team Authority, when Show did his annual turn and decked Cena with his hamhock of a fist. The most surprising thing was that Cena actually didn't kick out, and Ziggler was left to overcome the odds. Years of expectation made me think that this was going to be LOL CENA WINZ scenario, but I was glad to be proven wrong.
  • That being said, Cena not staying out to help offset the presence of The Authority on the outside of the ring was the biggest prick move he could have pulled. He never cared about his team. I hope this becomes a plot point going forward.
  • Rollins grabbing Ziggler's arm and mockingly making it reach for a tag that wasn't there was outstanding dick heel work.
  • Ziggler pretty much became Robert Gibson AND Ricky Morton fused into one dynamic powerhouse taking out Harper and Kane before getting into the finishing stretch with Rollins. Regardless of what was about to happen with various Franchises coming out as the final WCW holdout ever to appear in a WWE ring, he got put over huge. Ziggler HAS to win the Royal Rumble now, or at least get a showcase spotlight against Brock Lesnar at some point.
  • I'm going to level with everyone here. I never really "got" Sting, even when I started getting into WCW. But man, when he came out from the back, even I got a chill up my spine. I don't know what it was, but Sting's appearance last night did it for me.
  • Even his seeming eight hour staredown with Triple H in the ring worked, mainly because Sting in a WWE ring felt so surreal. Even with his appearance on Network docs and his inclusion in WWE 2K15, I wouldn't have been surprised to have seen him re-up with TNA like he always seems to do.
  • I will miss The Authority, but it was worth it seeing Stephanie McMahon and Triple H in utter delusional disbelief after they both realized what had happened after the match was over. Although I'm not looking forward to the Indecent Proposal-esque storyline that is going to take place when they invariably try to tempt Cena to get back their positions.

Match of the Night: Goldust and Stardust (c) vs. Jimmy and Jey Uso vs. Damien Sandow and The Miz vs. Diego and Fernando, WWE Tag Team Championship Match - Much like any normal episode of RAW, a midcard clusterfuck match was set to follow the awkward, mostly superfluous opening promo segment featuring Triple H and other various members of WWE's upper crust. But since the name on the marquee read "Survivor Series," the participants in the match almost innately raised their game past the usual "RAW shove everyone in the same match to advance one or more stories" clusterfuck. The game was raised early on when one of Los Matadores broke out a sweet low leg sweep to counter to Stardust running the ropes and then breaking out the Rob van Dam leg scissor rollup.

This match was the first one where the Puerto Ricans playing Mexicans playing a Spanish game really broke out of their jokey shells and elevated their in-ring work to a level theoretically befitting the title pedigree. Sandow not only worked his usual shtick of imitating everything The Miz did, but he even deployed it as successful strategery by using it as distraction at one point. The Usos were the Usos, which is not a bad thing, while the then-Champs even showed a bit of evolution. Stardust came out dressed in a red-schemed unitard, and he showed a flair for anger during the match, almost as if he was playing to nerdy tendencies and showing that he had gained a Red Power Ring from the Green Lantern universe. Goldust kept moving backwards in time like a gold-encrusted Benjamin Button.

But the real genius in the match centered around using Sandow as bait to keep the crowd invested in the match. Clearly, he was the one feature attraction that people wanted to see, and the way the narrative centered around teasing him and delaying his payoff until the very end was pro wrestling architecture at its finest. The match build a skeleton around one idea, a literal stunt double who thinks he's an understudy, fleshed it out for misdirection, and then when the time was just right, had him jump in the fire and ignite the crowd's burning desire for him to succeed. It was brilliance all around.

Overall Thoughts: Survivor Series was a weird show this year. In many respects, it played out like a glorified episode of RAW, replete with a 20 minute promo featuring Triple H going against a patronizing John Cena and a match that was made with an impromptu backstage segment in the Rosebuds/Slater Gator contest. The middle of the show up until the beginning of the main event felt like a slog. WWE can only go to the queer-baiting well with what the company stereotypically views as "lesbianism" so often, and then the agents foolishly laid out the SAME exact finish with Big Show and Mark Henry as they did with AJ Lee and Nikki Bella beforehand. This show had all the potential to be WWE's worst pay-per-view in over a year.

But the redeeming factors more than made up for the sag in the middle. The opening tag match was more than solid. It had weird energy at times, but energy was never lacking. The layout in keeping Damien Sandow on the apron and out of the fray until the very end was sublime and one of the smartest booking decisions made by the WWE team in a long time. The women's elimination match, though baffling in its booking, was still a showcase for an underserved portion of the roster. Even Cameron found a way not to fuck up too badly, while the rest of the competitors made their cases for a better showcase, longer matches, and more development. I'm not actually too down on the end of the Bray Wyatt/Dean Ambrose match either. While WWE has proven time and time again that it as an entity doesn't know how to shepherd a feud in a way that isn't "guy it wants you to cheer" metaphorically jizzing on the heel at every turn, the way that Wyatt induced Ambrose to go buck wild on him gives me some kind glimmer of hope.

But the real crown jewel in terms of total-package pro wrestling storytelling and emotional wrenching was the main event, especially the final angle. I will admit to being one of the observers whose emotional state of readiness for Sting to appear in a WWE ring bordered on antipathy. He was never "my" guy in WCW (and I say that fully acknowledging that my guys in WCW were either ex-WWF heroes like Hulk Hogan or new-school juniors in the midcard like Dean Malenko), and what I saw of him in TNA was embarrassing on average. But when he stepped into the arena at the end of the main event match, I got chills. He walked into the building with his trenchcoat hiding a pot belly and his hair looking shabbier than your first car, but he carried a presence with him. He made the moment feel important, which is something that more people who held better nostalgia for him felt when he took bat to nWo skull for the first time and declared his intentions in that skirmish.

But Sting's presence capped off a weird but wonderful cap to the show. Whether it was Ryback's build going towards being the first elimination on his team, Rusev wiping out on the Spanish announce table in perhaps the greatest non-pinfall elimination ever, Erick Rowan of all people busting out a martial arts movie-caliber spinning roundhouse kick, John Cena being the THIRD guy out on his own team, the way Dolph Ziggler held the crowd in his hand as he played the valiant conquering underdog hero, or the pathetic yet poignant final stand of Triple H and Stephanie McMahon as day-to-day managers of WWE, the close to night held such junk food appeal. The match wasn't the best of the night, and one could pick out the flaws in logic or pacing if they were so inclined without any real protestation from yours truly. However, the whole thing came together in an oddly satisfying experience, even if the longterm implications to the health of the company or the sanity of the viewer are less than optimistic.