Monday, November 20, 2017

It Was Triple H with the Shovel in the Main Event: WWE Survivor Series 2017 Review

Everything wrong with WWE in one picture
Photo Credit:
Two TH-Style reviews in one day. Not bad.

  • The Shield defeated New Day with a second-rope triple powerbomb on Kofi Kingston.
  • Asuka was the sole survivor in the women's traditional five-on-five match, last eliminating Tamina Snuka with the Asuka Lock.
  • Baron Corbin hit an End of Days OUT OF NOWHERE on The Miz to pick up the win.
  • The Usos went over The Bar HOSS International with a splash on Sheamus.
  • Charlotte Flair made Alexa Bliss tap out to the Figure Eight.
  • Brock Lesnar countered a Phenomenal Forearm from AJ Styles into the F5 for the win.
  • Triple H and Braun Strowman were the survivors for the RAW team in the main event five-on-five match. Triple H last eliminated Shane McMahon with a pedigree after hitting Kurt Angle with a pedigree and putting McMahon on top of him. After the match, Strowman beat the ever-loving shit out of Trips.

General Observations:
  • I just wanna say that even though I own his breakout album Devil Without a Cause, Kid Rock remains the worst, the absolute worst, and it's not surprising at all WWE uses his music to promote its events. Related note, the title track to that album I kinda shamefully own is the most unintentionally hilarious song ever.
  • Big E dumping Booty-Os on the fan during New Day's entrance was exactly why he should be a main event guy, but also the minor reason he won't be in Vince McMahon's WWE, the main reason being racism, duh.
  • I know I wig out over McMahonspeak all the time, but something about hearing the word "faction" triggers me. New Day is one of the most verbally gifted groups of wrestlers in WWE history. I don't need to hear them talking about "dominant factions" like that means anything.
  • I gotta wonder if New Day gyrated and played Francesca during the entire recap package. Knowing them, they probably did.
  • Random thought, New Day was lauded on commentary as a "dominant trio," but how much of its run has had a sustained run of six-man tags like The Shield's did? Not to diminish New Day's run so far, but it felt like something the commentary team, which actually did an excellent job most of the night to be fair, could've picked up on.
  • "Three workhorses who run this business..." oh honey no, no way should that be used to describe anyone on commentary in kayfabe, even if it's true outside of the script.
  • Roman Reigns is a great worker, but I think his work doesn't resonate because he's not the kind of great worker built to fit the WWE top guy mold. It's angry, which feels either WWE heel mold, or an ECW antihero. The best example from last night was when he just yanked Xavier Woods' wrist and clocked him with a short-arm clothesline. I cringed just watching it unfold.
  • Honestly, Kofi Kingston should have tenure enough that he shouldn't have to do crazy shit bumps like sliding backwards crotch-first into the ringpost. But I respect his game enough that he does it anyway.
  • Big E's trash talk game last night was the best I've heard since Mark Henry went into limited duty.
  • The finishing sequence of that match was fuckin' crazy and it brought back what was best about The Shield in addition to putting them in the ring with a cohesive unit that could keep up with them. It brought back some memories of the Wyatt Family barnburners except the visceral hate wasn't there. Thanks again, meaningless "brand supremacy" trappings!
  • Oh great, a Stephanie McMahon pep talk, just what this show needed. When she told Bayley "to stop hugging," I wanted her to take her bougie ass and Bayley-to-Belly it through some crates.
  • "Sasha Banks, she got tiger blood." Booker T crossed over from annoying to almost @dril-like meta weirdness, and I was here for it.
  • Alicia Fox's lockups were so tight and yet frenetic. It really got across the "craziness" in her character better than all the cacophony from commentary historically.
  • Becky Lynch being eliminated first from the Smackdown team would've been fine had the only other reliable worker on the team not been Naomi. Rolling deep with Carmella, Nattie Neidhart, and Tamina Snuka... well, shit.
  • Booker is known for drifting and switching sides on commentary so much so that Corey Graves and Michael Cole call him on it, but last night, he started talking about how if Neidhart got eliminated it would be bad for Smackdown like it was worried. I'm sure the writers really appreciated that.
  • I felt bad for Snuka last night, because every time she was interacting with Nia Jax, it showed how inadequate she was in comparison. But then she'd go and hit her janky-ass splash and that badness would dissipate.
  • The way Asuka finished the match, she probably didn't need to debut at TLC and could've just had last night be her start on the main roster. It would've been more effective than even if she had murked Emma in 30 seconds like so many people wanted her to.
  • Daniel Bryan being the one to call McMahon out on her bullshit was nice, but again, it's not going to matter one lick if she can't take a bump.
  • I'm glad the production team highlighted the Twitter promos between Baron Corbin and The Miz, because I didn't get a chance to check them out, and they were pretty good. Miz is Miz, obvs, but Corbin actually felt fresher and more organic talking what I imagined was unscripted shit. Just another reminder that some guys don't need rigid scripting, for fuck's sake.
  • Going with a straight heel/heel match with Miz and Corbin felt kinda iffy since WWE doesn't do face/heel matches that well, but they found a way to shift sympathy to Miz early with Corbin targeting/mocking Maryse. I thought they probably should've kept the balance tilted that way, especially because Miz going heel working on Corbin's leg felt kinda hollow since picking apart a weak body part isn't really heeling anymore as much as it's psychology.
  • It was refreshing to see a move OUT OF NOWHERE that wasn't a RKO, especially when it was Corbin hitting the End of Days out of what was a boilerplate transition during one of Miz's five moves of doom (in this case, the corner Daniel Bryan dropkick).
  • The Usos came out and started into a promo centered around "Bar" puns, and I immediately started to wonder if Naomi was pregnant.
  • Cesaro really isn't fair, but to be honest, cutting off a plancha before flight with a European uppercut on the apron feels so simple that someone should have thought of it before now.
  • "Think about the brand, not about the Universe." Booker T with that line accidentally highlighted the inherent fatal flaw of capitalism vis a vis the greater health of the world in which it exists.
  • The fact that the Usos and Cesaro and Sheamus recreated the finishing spot from last year's ten-on-ten tag team elimination match but for a nearfall/save spot (Cesaro with the sharpshooter, Sheamus picking off the other with a Brogue Kick) was tremendous, but Cole actually noting it and bringing it all together was his best call of the night. Again, the five man booth was unexpectedly excellent, but Cole really brought his A-game.
  • Cesaro using the springboard assist on the combo White Noise was a nice twist, but again, Cesaro's that dude.
  • I won't go so far as to say WWE was violating a trademark or whatever when Byron Saxton called an Uso flurry "a superkick party," but it's an incredibly shitty thing to do, to glom their intellectual property without credit or compensation, to the Young Bucks when you're also legally boxing them out from doing the same to you.
  • Alexa Bliss hitting the arm wringer on Charlotte Flair off the apron was one of the gnarliest spots of the year. She's totally got the heel worker shtick down, man.
  • Even though it doesn't make sense due to her relative size to the rest of the female roster, Flair works so much better face. I think it's because she has a touch of AJ Styles in her, that she just goes bombs out bumping, even on little things like going neck first into the second turnbuckle off the kickout to the O'Connor roll.
  • Cole covered for Bliss on the Insult to Injury double splash, when on the second half she hit the legs awkwardly instead of the midsection by saying she was going after Flair's hamstrings. Good commentary gets wrestlers over. Great commentary makes everything seem as if it were planned, even when it isn't.
  • One might expect dueling chants to pick up during heel/heel or face/face matches (even though the show really didn't have any of the latter), but I felt it interesting that Flair and Bliss had them going. Is Bliss getting over, or did people really buy into the brand supremacy thing? If the latter's the case, maybe I'm an old fuddy dud...
  • Bliss holding Flair up by her chin and shit-talking her before Flair powered up and hit her with the spear was one of the best spots of pure emotion and classic storytelling of the whole night.
  • Everyone loves Brock Lesnar's German suplex, but man, his overhead belly to belly is fantastic too. Of course, that's probably my favorite overall suplex, and AJ Styles taking it was a thing of beauty. But still.
  • Styles takes big bumps to the tune of gaining a reputation, but man, some of the selling he does after, the pained facial expressions and twitching and arching, especially last night, really puts a bow on things.
  • So, the tornado DDT attempt, was Lesnar just so gassed at that moment that he couldn't turn all the way around, or was it planned that way? If it was the former, it was a happy accident that again Cole covered for on commentary super well, and if it was the latter, it was super innovative. A win-win.
  • The escape from the calf crusher, where Lesnar just took Styles and murdalized him until he released, was great, but the whole sequence, from attempted Phenomenal Forearm into the F5 escape into the transition to the submission itself, was wrestling caviar.
  • Kurt Angle came out with flag star wrist/hand tape, so you know he was hyped.
  • As if you wanted any extra proof that Shane McMahon was the heel in all this and that Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens are completely justified in their violent disobedience and that also all rich people are infected by hubris and brain worms, he began the match trying to Pearl Harbor Braun Strowman. To prove a point, that should have been the first elimination, Strowman turning McMahon into a grease spot.
  • Honestly, the term "dream matchup" every time a different combo of first-time WWE matchups got into the ring was used a bit to liberally for my tastes, especially when it involved Randy Orton.
  • John Cena flipping the fuck out on the apron when Finn Bálor and Shinsuke Nakamura were in the ring with each other was everything right about him and why it's gonna be real sad when he's no longer in WWE on even a HBK-schedule part-time basis.
  • Bálor forcing Nakamura into the ropes and then too sweeting him in the forehead was awesome heeling and made me sad that his "Bálor Club" trademark is just something for WWE to glom from New Japan to sell shirts instead of an actual group that he leads.
  • I fucking hate that WWE has co-opted the term "perform" to refer to in-ring action. Why does Vince McMahon hate the word "wrestling?"
  • Cole calling Triple H "the wife of Stephanie McMahon" was way too funny than it should've been, to be honest, and I'll leave it at that.
  • I loved that it took the entire Smackdown team to suplex Strowman through a table, and I loved it even better when he came back later in the match and just wrecked everyone's shit.
  • Cena and Samoa Joe's first interaction in an actual WWE match shouldn't have been in a Survivor Series elimination match, but as someone who's ached for them to wrestle for years, I'll take what I can get.
  • Shane McMahon honestly has a death wish. That's all I can say to explain away the rocket bump he took on his neck against the barricade from that Bálor dropkick.
  • Speaking of Owens and Zayn, I would've loved it if they weren't easily chased away by chairs and actually caused McMahon to get eliminated, but if I'm being honest, that entire main event match was laid out cockeyed from jump.
  • The main event was actually enjoyable up until the point that Strowman mercifully put Orton out of the match. Yeah.
  • Basically, my notes after Orton got eliminated all start with "lmao" on every line for about four lines, because Triple H setting himself up to have heat with not just McMahon, not just Angle, but also Strowman is ten times shittier than anything he did during his shovel days in the early Aughts outside of racisming Booker T to hell at WrestleMania XIX.
  • But hey, at least Strowman ate his soul afterwards so not all was lost.

Match of the Night: Brock Lesnar vs. AJ Styles — The Brock Lesnar Match is pretty much exactly what one expects to receive before it happens. It has been since SummerSlam 2014, when Lesnar took John Cena to Suplex City for the first time. It's neither an inherently "good" or "bad" match so to speak. It's just a style, and it depends on how much of a shit Lesnar wants to give but more accurately, the caliber of his opponent. Randy Orton is not going to produce great results; the fact Bill Goldberg could is a profound judgment against The Viper, but that's a topic best left for another post down the line. AJ Styles, however, could wrestle Donald Trump and probably produce something that Dave Meltzer and his roving gang of remoras would give three stars to. So why would anyone doubt his ability to mine The Brock Lesnar Match for all it was worth? Everytime someone gets malaise with Lesnar, the narrative becomes that he can't have good matches, and then he comes out and produces something universally adored. How though? The time has come to break it down.

The beginning of the match, a universal trope that Lesnar just comes out beating the shit out of his opponent, came off better because Styles has a flair for bumping like a goddamn madman and then following it up with dedicated selling. It played right into Lesnar's strength, that he's some kind of golem made out of Jimmy John's and USADA banned substances that violently ragdolls anyone who gets in his way. Styles' lack of regard for his own body and his understanding of what makes pro wrestling theater was the perfect canvas for that opening assault, and it also provided extra spark for his comeback midmatch. Styles had so much pop behind his offense, and then Lesnar completed the circle with his total bewilderment at being flurried with bullet-like fists and kicks. Add that in with the big set-piece counters, especially the "was it a botch or was it planned" tornado DDT and Lesnar breaking out of the Calf Crusher by just slamming Styles off the mat like he was a frustrated office drone and Styles was an old laptop. The match literally had everything someone could have wanted out of a match of this kind, one that was an exhibition by design with no real stakes other than bullshit "brand supremacy" and the more tangible "underdog proving his worth against the megalith."

What's even more satisfying about this match is imagining the alternative. What would Jinder Mahal really have been able to do with Lesnar other than cheat, perhaps do a bargain-basement imitation of Samoa Joe's Great Balls of Fire match, and provide the Singh Brothers as lawn darts? It might have been fun, but Styles there showed the limitless possibilities he has at his disposal against any opponent. Lesnar, contrary to popular belief, is not a limited wrestler by ability, but one by design. Vince McMahon doesn't ask him to work underneath, so he doesn't. Styles took that and got the best possible match out of that situation, and in the process, may have turned in the most memorable Survivor Series match ever... well, the most memorable one that didn't involve a screwy finish and a jilted wrestler expectorating on the CEO before walking out the door.

Overall Thoughts: If you turned Survivor Series off at the end of Brock Lesnar vs. AJ Styles, congratulations, you would have watched perhaps the most perfect WWE pay-per-view of the year, at least from a match quality standpoint. Yeah, the "FIGHT FOR BRAND SUPREMACY" thing still would've made the show on a level below WrestleMania or even one of the better B pay-per-views of the year like Payback, but honestly, if your goal is just to have fab wrestling matches with contained storytelling, this show was for you. Hell, even if you made it to the point in the main event where Braun Strowman eliminated Randy Orton, leaving the three-on-one Passion of the Shane as the setting for the final run, maybe the show is again one of the best shows of the year all-around, even with the blase storytelling base behind it.

But then the final run of the match pretty much ground any momentum the show had to a screeching halt because WWE has to keep feeding Triple H. Even if the endgame was having Braun Strowman literally smush him into a fine powder after the match, it still made the entirety of not only RAW, but WWE, run through him. The match ended with Trips having not one, not two, but THREE people mad at him and wanting to get him in the ring. That's about five more people than should be having heat with him in 2017. The entire structure of that final match showed emblematic signs of WWE's problems in terms of presenting a narrative, too many entrenched guys being gratified at the expense of lesser established but high ceiling wrestlers who could have been presented in a way that enhanced their standing. I hate to couch this in age, because even WWE's "up and comers" are pushing 40. Samoa Joe, Bobby Roode, Finn Bálor, and Shinsuke Nakamura are all on the wrong side of 35. Hell, Strowman himself is 34. The difference between them and the part-timers and Randy Orton is, well, they're all guys who are viable at this point in their careers. They're fresh names.

Triple H is the opposite of a fresh name. Whether or not he's popular isn't the question because he's not around enough to pay on all the receipts he's handing out, and that model is unsustainable for a company that has to fill five hours a week normally and an extra three-to-five on top of that if it's a PPV week. You need guys who are over, developed, and able to carry reactions week in and week out. The business may have changed from the era before, when everyone was over, which is expected given how saturated television is now. However, WWE bulked up rosters in order to meet the demand, and it's still only pushing seriously maybe one guy and cycling the rest of the stories through authority figures and part-timers. If you're worried about scarcity for main event talent to get audiences really foaming at the mouth for them, try developing characters and stories up and down the card with more than one feud in a given division. It's not hard. RAW did it with Goldust and R-Truth in what feels like years ago (it's only been a few months). It's doing well now with Elias, whose absence from the main Survivor Series show felt like the grossest misappropriation of a wrestler's talent in a long time. What about all those cruiserweights who, unlike the women, didn't have a showcase match outside of the title match on the pre-show? Or what about all the dudes in NXT who really don't belong there and instead would be better served developing a following on the main roster?

It's almost pointless to note anymore because WWE has always leaned on a guy forever and a day once it identified him as a star as @KaijuJoe on Twitter pointed out. Bruno Sammartino was on top for an entire decade. Hulk Hogan might have choked the life out of the company even further had Ted Turner not dropped money bags upon money bags on his front lawn. Vince McMahon was poised to do the same with Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels had WCW and a drug/injury cocktail not intervened respectively. Hell, look at how hard he's still trying to milk John Cena as he's trying to segue into his Screen Actors Guild card and life in cinema with his WrestleMania XXI buddy, Dave Batista.

And now, WWE can combine two of its favorite pastimes, pushing old guys AND the McMahon family with Triple H, now that he's married into the fold. Of course, it's foolish to be surprised at any of this. But you don't have to be surprised to be continually disappointed in WWE for taking a product that can be so good at times and making the trappings around it so overbearingly unwelcoming that it makes people like myself question why they don't let their subscriptions lapse. Then again, the thing about these shows and the entire archive is that you can literally watch what you want and however much of it for a low price per month. So if you're going back to watch after the fact, I suggest you just stop at the end of AJ Styles vs. Brock Lesnar. Those matches, all those matches leading up to it, as good to great or flawed as they were, made for one hell of a show. You don't have to watch the main event. In fact, you really shouldn't watch it unless you're one of those dudes who likes to say "All hail" at everything Triple H/Paul Levesque does. Then, by all means, partake, and try not to spatter your baby batter all over the house, okay?