Monday, 23 November 2015

WWE Survivor Series 2015

Image Source: Ticketmaster
Written By: Mark Armstrong

Genre: Wrestling
Produced By: WWE
Format: Pay-Per-View
Date: November 22 2015
Location: Philips Arena, Atlanta, Georgia, USA
Attendance: 14,481

The 29th annual edition of the Survivor Series had two main talking points heading into the show: the tournament for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship (which in itself brought about other potential discussion topics, as I will explain), and the show marking the 25th anniversary of The Undertaker's debut. In the end, neither scenario brought about a big surprise, although a show-closing swerve did provide Survivor Series with a memorable if slightly familiar ending.

That being said, beforehand, there was genuine concern about a potential attack on the show by extremists, in light of recent world events. Whether it be due to tightened security or such chatter being hearsay, the event fortunately did not suffer from such problems; as it often has, WWE stood tall and went on with the show despite the fear that the rumours had caused. A perfect example of this was Lilian Garcia opening Survivor Series with a powerful rendition of The Star-Spangled Banner.

Still, fans got a minor scare when the WWE Network feed went down right as the live Kick-Off show began. On another occasion, this would be put down to a connectivity fault, but given the situation preceding the show, many were wondering if there was a connection (no pun intended). Fortunately, whatever the problem was, it had been fixed within 10 minutes, and the feed remained live for the rest of the night.

As for the Kick-off Show itself: we unexpectedly got a bonus Survivor Series elimination match, which just as unexpectedly saw the return of Goldust! He teamed with Neville, The Dudley Boyz and Titus O'Neil (where was Darren Young?) against Stardust, The Ascension, Bo Dallas and The Miz under traditional SS rules (you get eliminated by pinfall, submission, countout or disqualification, and the match continues until a full team has been vanquished). Viktor of The Ascension went out early (and quite effortlessly) to a basic Goldust slam, followed by Miz pinning Neville (which had to be a comedown to the Englishman, since on paper he was one win off performing at this PPV in the WWE Title tournament). But Miz, a former WWE Champ himself, was pinned immediately by Goldust (who recently celebrated an anniversary of his own, by the way; his character first entered the WWF/WWE just over 20 years ago).

It felt weird watching commercial breaks during a Survivor Series elimination match which was taking place at Survivor Series (well, kind of), but that's the Kick-Off Show for you; one or two breaks during the 40-45 minutes of talking, and then two during the bonus match. Anyway, Bubba Ray Dudley pinned Konnor, and Bo Dallas fell to the Clash Of The Titus, leaving Stardust against four men. The former Cody Rhodes tried to run off, but was thrown back into the ring to taste a match-winning 3D. So, everyone except Neville survived (couldn't Titus have been eliminated instead of Neville, since the Newcastle-born high-flyer is a far more exciting performer?), and Goldust returned to potentially re-ignite his feud with Stardust. If they do, I really hope that Dusty Rhodes is only mentioned in passing and not made a part of the storyline, which can be extremely distasteful if done wrongly (as I will note later on). Overall, though, a fun match for the Kick-Off Show. One last observation: what happened to The Dudleyz' comeback run? If things keep going in this direction, they'll be long gone from WWE by this time next year.

The first official match of the night was one of the semi-finals in the WWE Title tournament between Roman Reigns and Alberto Del Rio. Before I discuss the match, I'll talk about the tournament. Seth Rollins had been champion since WrestleMania and was scheduled to defend it here against Roman Reigns. But an injury meant that he will be out of action for 6-9 months, necessitating a vacating of the title. WWE announced a tournament to be held over multiple weeks, culminating in a new champion being crowned at Survivor Series. Many weren't happy that the tournament felt like a bit of a non-event, due to the lack of intrigue surrounding those involved and potential outcomes.

While that is undoubtedly true, the current WWE roster is rather thin. Rollins is injured of course, but Randy Orton also has a long-term injury. Daniel Bryan still isn't back from injury (and might never be, at least in WWE). John Cena is on his first requested leave of absence since his WWE debut in 2002, so the guy deserves to remain on vacation. Brock Lesnar is between appearances, and would be too dominant for his inclusion to result in anything other than a title victory. Besides, he is more likely to enter the WWE Title picture in early 2016 (which I will discuss later on). The Undertaker and Kane and The Wyatt Family had their own storyline going on; Bray Wyatt could have been entered and been denied by the Brothers Of Destruction, I suppose, but I'm not that bothered that Bray wasn't included since he had a valid reason for not being involved. The Rock is (presumably) currently unavailable. Triple H entering would only have worked had he entered the final match only, because why would HHH go through four opponents to get a title opportunity when he runs the company?  Sting is apparently still injured, with question marks surrounding whether he will ever wrestle again at this stage. And even Rusev is on the sidelines, with Cesaro reportedly about to join him on the shelf.

Therefore, given all of these absences, could you realistically have expected a better field of 16 than what WWE chose? (Although, not to hate on Titus, but his inclusion baffled me). And whilst most tournament matches on the Raw in Manchester were run-of-the-mill (Cesaro-Sheamus being the exception), we got a big upset on SmackDown when Kalisto pinned Ryback (even if it achieved nothing with Kalisto losing quickly to Del Rio in the next round), and every quarter-final match besides ADR-Kalisto was either really good or great. Sure, WWE could have made the storyline surrounding the semi-finals more interesting, and comparisons were unavoidable to a similar tournament for the then-WWF Title at Survivor Series 1998. But the Attitude Era is long gone, and we're talking about 2015 WWE rather than 1998 WWF here. All things considered, whilst it definitely could have had more plot twists, realistically you couldn't have expected more in terms of the personnel than what we got from this tournament. And the brackets did promise some pretty good matches at the PPV, regardless of the outcomes.

Okay, I've done enough talking; back to the action. Reigns-Del Rio was exactly what was expected; a back-and-forth match with Reigns relying on power and big moves, and ADR catching Reigns off-guard with his strikes and weakening Reigns' arms with the Cross Armbreaker. I won't go move-for-move here because I've gabbed enough already, so suffice it to say that Reigns avoided the turnbuckle stomp and Speared Del Rio for the win. Reigns' victory was 99.9% expected, so all I can say is that at least this was an exciting opener. Del Rio's lack of a real character at present, besides talking about Mex-America (what happened to the fancy cars and the personal ring announcer) overshadows the fact that he nearly always provides a good match. Hopefully WWE will do something to make ADR more interesting, because his strong work ethic is being tarnished by his dull-as-ditchwater persona (or lack thereof). Reigns received a lot of cheers at this point, by the way.

Match two was slightly less predictable, as the other semi-final pitted Dean Ambrose against Kevin Owens. The two were teasing a feud before the tournament began; what a coincidence that they met in the semi-final, eh? Regardless, whilst a Reigns vs. Ambrose final seemed obvious, Owens' all-round entertainment package meant that WWE could have decided to swerve the audience and slot KO into the final. However, that didn't transpire; Ambrose did indeed pick up the win, following a great match filled with slick counters and high-impact moves, such as Owens' modified suplex off the top rope, and the sequence which saw Dean leap over Kevin's shoulders to avoid a Pop-Up Powerbomb, and the subsequent interlocking of arms that eventually resulted in Dean planting KO with Dirty Deeds for the pin, was a pretty cool thing to watch. Owens is so undeniably fun to watch that many fans were backing him during the match, but that didn't stop Ambrose receiving an overwhelmingly positive response after triumphing here. The only downside was that the match seemed to end just as it was getting really good; another 5-10 minutes, and we might have had a Match Of The Year contender; the action was that good. Still, there's always the possibility of a rematch (which is likely, as I will once again explain later on). Reigns vs. Ambrose was set for the final, which most predicted when they first saw the brackets two weeks ago. Nevertheless, there was still intrigue as to who would win, and under what circumstances. I shall explain what happened - yes! - later on.

Up next was a Survivor Series elimination match, with the participants strangely unannounced beforehand. This would have worked if WWE had some surprise entrants involved, but alas no, that wasn't the case. We did get The New Day, though, who were as much of a guilty pleasure to watch as ever, alongside King Barrett and Sheamus. They battled Ryback, The Usos and The Lucha Dragons in a peculiar elimination match, more for events later on in the night than those which happened during the match.

Besides Xavier Woods' daft new hairstyle and his usual trombone antics (which led to a humorous visual of Barrett getting jiggy with The New Day), there wasn't much going on until a huge dive by all babyface participants except Ryback to the floor, who then followed suit with one of his own. This deservedly got a big pop, and was the highlight of a pedestrian match which the fans didn't seem greatly interested in. Barrett was ousted first from a Sin Cara senton; the King must be wondering what part of the show he will pinball onto next following this. The man who entered WrestleMania as Intercontinental Champion, won King Of The Ring and got WWE mass publicity after taking a slap from Wayne Rooney at the Manchester episode of Raw suffers frequent career plunges, with another happening here. Barrett's best option is to escape WWE TV for a while, and return when WWE is interested in featuring him in a prolonged, career-making scenario. As it is, it feels like Barrett will never achieve anything big in WWE again, which is a shame for a good all-around performer with an understated sense of humour.

Jimmy Uso was pinned surprisingly cleanly by Xavier Woods, and after a risky Spear by Big E through the ropes to take Cara to the floor, he was pinned by Sheamus following a Brogue Kick. A big splash from Jey Uso pinned Big E to the horror of the New Day, who bizarrely decided at this point to leave the match. The good thing about SS matches is that you can present some DQs and countouts without causing mass upset, since they only slightly affect the match outcome. Here, it had a big effect from a storyline standpoint, as Sheamus was left all alone with Ryback, Kalisto and Jey Uso. I thought Sheamus would hit a clean sweep to revive his own flagging fortunes, or at least narrow it down to one-on-one. He did enter SS with the Money In The Bank briefcase, after all. But instead, he fell quite easily to Ryback's Shell Shocked, losing the match for his team. Match over, just like that. All in all, this was fun to watch, but the booking was strange at best and lazy at worst. And considering what Sheamus would do before the show ended, it raises some questions which WWE would struggle to answer.

Speaking of which ... Charlotte defend the Divas Title against Paige in a match, and a feud, which has now been completely overshadowed by the incident which closed the preceding Raw. I'll touch on it in a moment, but I'll simply say that this was a fairly good effort, and a lengthy match, but one which received minimal crowd noise, probably due to the aforementioned Raw angle. Charlotte Speared Paige off the crowd barrier (another Spear?), in a dangerous-looking (and seemingly-botched) spot, and "Baby Flair" shortly thereafter made Paige submit to the Figure-8. After that result, Paige can't really claim a rematch, so the rivalry appears to have ended. The effort was there, but it just felt inconsequential. And yet this was hyped up strongly by WWE, was built off a two-month storyline whereby a jealous Paige turned on Charlotte and Becky Lynch, and was actually something of a dream match for fans only a few months ago. Granted, WWE presents women differently than its NXT show does, but still ... why did this match feel like it didn't matter?

The answer, of course, was because of what happened on Raw. WWE chose to close the final Raw before Survivor Series with a contract signing between the two ladies. A questionable decision, considering the tournament which was in progress and the fact that the "Divas Revolution" hasn't quite exploded yet (it seemed to be an attempt to cash in on Ronda Rousey shockingly losing her first fight in UFC); but regardless, all was going fairly well. Charlotte had been booed throughout the UK tour while Paige was cheered (she is English, by the way, which could explain things), and the contract signing was in North Carolina, a.k.a. Flair Country. On Raw, things were going swimmingly, all things considered, until ...

Charlotte noted how her whole career was dedicated to her late brother Reid, and how Paige helped Charlotte through Reid's death in 2013. In response, though, a scripted remark by Paige was made for her to taunt Charlotte about this, noting how she doesn't have fight, and her deceased brother didn't either. The crowd response was shock via being offended rather than shock via "I want to see Charlotte beat Paige up". The resultant brawl was tarnished, and the PPV match suffered here too. Whilst bringing up deaths as heel heat was never truly acceptable in the past, this felt really, really low. Regardless of your opinion about WWE bringing up Eddie Guerrero and Paul Bearer in storylines, at least they were, to an uneducated fan, WWE characters. Reid Flair never was; this was the untimely death of a person who had never wrestled for WWE. For WWE to bring this up to make Paige look like a villain was truly terrible. As I mentioned earlier, it's not the Attitude Era anymore. The world has changed. For example, back then, the WWF presented some storylines with racial undertones, and would do so again in future. In 2015, Hulk Hogan was fired by WWE for racist comments.

The same applies in this scenario. Fans want to enjoy WWE, relax when watching the show, feel good when watching the show. Bringing up someone's death in this manner achieves none of that, and leaves one feeling cold. Especially since Charlotte's mother Elizabeth and her dad, who of course is Ric Flair, apparently weren't told about the remark beforehand. Ric's subsequent comments on his podcast, which strongly implied that he was upset but didn't want to say anything that would affect Charlotte's career, and hinting that she couldn't refuse to agree to these comments because she was relatively new to WWE, has actually led to WWE preventing its talent from appearing on Ric's podcast in the near future, as alarming as it might read. Worse still are the rumours that WWE, in an attempt to absolve itself of blame for the remark, tried to make the outside world believe that it was Charlotte's idea, as ridiculous as that sounds (Charlotte was in tears in the ring before the remark, probably because she knew what was coming).

In the end, WWE didn't even use the remark in the pre-match video here, and besides a vague reference to it by Michael Cole, there was no further mention of it here. It's wrong to use one's death in this fashion, anyway, but this time it appears that it truly backfired. WWE looks downright shady for thinking that this was appropriate, and has been heavily criticised as a result. Not for nothing, the comment was the main talking point by fans after the pre-PPV Raw, which is unwanted on several levels. Hopefully, the backlash will finally convince WWE to not refer to or exploit death in the future. I don't agree with those who run WWE down as a company or make Vince McMahon out to be the devil, but he unquestionable has a habit (either deliberately or otherwise) of green-lighting some content guaranteed to offend. It has to be hoped that this coal-black trend has now ended as a result of the fallout to this saga.

Okay, this has been a text-heavy review, but there's been a lot to discuss. For that reason, I'll only quickly state here that in match number five, former NXT standout Tyler Breeze pinned Dolph Ziggler, fairly easily actually. This looks to be the beginning of what should be an enjoyable feud, with this match being good but feeling more like a preview to bigger things on the horizon. If not, then Ziggler's star is plummeting rapidly. The crowd response was almost non-existent here; it felt like the crowd was in attendance for the tournament and the Undertaker match, and nothing else. Oh, and beforehand, Reigns and Ambrose had a chat backstage with both agreeing to put their friendship aside later on and simply fight for the title.

Fortunately, a fairly drab hour or so of action was followed by the penultimate match, which pitted The Undertaker and Kane against The Wyatt Family. The storyline was a bit confusing, and the beatdown of the Wyatts to close the Manchester Raw made the match feel pointless, since that destruction (no pun intended) was so one-sided. In reality, it all existed to create a match to mark the 25th anniversary of The Undertaker's WWF/WWE debut, back at Survivor Series 1990. Amazingly, it was to the exact date; this show was on November 22 2015, and SS 1990 was on November 22 1990. (Okay, so Taker had some matches taped under the ironic name Kane The Undertaker prior to SS '90 which were broadcast after the PPV, but that's all kept hush-hush.)

The Wyatts usually have the best entrance of the night, but not on this night. Kane did ... no, I'm joking. Kane came out first, followed by Taker, whose arrival included rising flames, two burning Undertaker symbols from the Ministry era, and a huge casket was dropped in front of the big screen, which when opened revealed a screen which showed photographs of Undertaker throughout his career, from his debut onto the purple glove days, into the Attitude Era, onto the American Bad Ass phase (which is sometimes ignored by WWE), and right to the present day. The casket screen was simple but really effective, and the entrance as a whole gave me goosebumps to watch, and was actually a bit emotional. For those fans who have followed Undertaker's career for the entire 25 years, or even those who have watched him since the Attitude Era, it felt like a huge moment, and was actually probably the highlight of the show to me. WWE doesn't normally mark these occasions for specific performers (see Survivor Series 2010, which didn't mark the 20th anniversary of Taker, who was admittedly injured at the time), but nobody deserved such a tribute more than Undertaker, who should be far higher than he is on people's lists for the greatest WWE performer of all-time.

Onto the match: the Brothers Of Destruction double-chokeslammed Erick Rowan beforehand, leaving Bray and Luke Harper to compete (Wyatt's partner would only be picked on the night), with Braun Strowman unexpectedly remaining a spectator. Taker started strong, with Kane taking over before being recklessly thrown over an announcer's table by Strowman. Kane remained on the defensive for some time before making the inevitable hot tag to Taker, who turned the match in his team's favour. A double chokeslam through an announcer's table took out Strowman, and after a cool visual where Harper and a Spider Walking Wyatt were met by simultaenous sit-ups from Taker and Kane, two chokeslams to Wyatt and Harper led to Undertaker Tombstoning and pinning Harper. Fans gave Taker the deserved huge reaction throughout this match presentation, which served its purpose as a straightforward (by Undertaker standards) to mark his legendary quarter-century WWE run.

Some were angry that the Wyatts lost, but let's face it; the writing was on the wall after Raw in Manchester, and Taker might only have one or two matches left in him. There'll be plenty of chances to revive the Wyatts' fortunes in the future. Whether WWE does is another matter, of course.

So we come to the main event: Reigns vs. Ambrose, in the final of the WWE Title tournament. (By the way, these two main eventing for a title vacated by Rollins underlines the impact that The Shield had on WWE; they too debuted at Survivor Series back in 2012). The main question going into this (besides the obvious) was whether either man would turn heel and align with The Authority. Some thought that Reigns would sell out and give into the occasional fan resentment that he suffers; others believed such a scenario would make Ambrose the new top heel in WWE. Either way, you knew that WWE wouldn't just give us a straight-up match; something had to go down which would be unexpected.

The match itself started as a slugfest, and quickly built up into a game of one ups-manship involving fairly big moves and some finishers. It felt very rushed, and I noticed that the match ended with around 20 minutes of the three-hour timeslot still available. The action was good, but it felt like around 5-10 minutes had been removed from it; with the added time, this match would have been a lot better. A tournament can do that to shows, and to be fair both men had wrestled around 30 minutes each after this bout ended. It's worth noting that Reigns was booed more heavily here, and that the crowd could have still been louder during the match's key moments.

The main one being a Spear by Reigns which put Ambrose away. Three years after debuting at Survivor Series 2012, and two years after a dominant display in a 2013 SS elimination match, Roman Reigns was the WWE World Heavyweight Champion, capping off an eventful yet difficult year. The crowd response was ... okay. A good number of fans cheered, but it wasn't anything close to a unanimous roar to celebrate the company's next top star. Ambrose endorsed Reigns afterwards, which killed off any ideas that a heel turn was going to happen (I thought that Dean would turn, judging by his suspect facials and mannerisms throughout the show). Fireworks went off and confetti poured to mark the occasion, but one still had that feeling of "Surely, something else is going to happen here?" It wouldn't have been a horrible end by any means, but given the anticlimactic feel to the presentation of the tournament, finishing on this note would have made fans feel like the show was a let-down.

Then, Triple H's music hit, and you knew that there really was going to be some post-match fracas. HHH came down supposedly to endorse Reigns, despite Roman refusing his offer to become The Authority's golden boy a few weeks ago. Reigns wasn't having it, and surprisingly Speared HHH to his loudest pop of the night. But he turned around to be Brogue Kicked by Sheamus, who was suddenly in the ring to cash in Money In The Bank! After an awkward delay whilst Lilian Garcia announced what was happening, the bell rang and Sheamus pinned Roman, but Reigns kicked out; it felt like Sheamus was going to fail (which wouldn't have been a shock, to be honest). Reigns then launched himself for a Spear, only to taste a second Brogue Kick. Sheamus pinned Roman again and, this time, the referee counted three, making Sheamus the new WWE World Heavyweight Champion! Sheamus shook Triple H's hand afterwards, while Roman was left with tears in his eyes pondering the situation as the show concluded.

A Sheamus cash-in wasn't a massive surprise, but it was unexpected that he would actually win the top title after the demeaning booking of him ever since he won the briefcase back in June. For that reason, some were disgruntled, but we all know that Sheamus won't hold the title for very long, and that Reigns will either beat Sheamus for the gold, or he will win it in early 2016; it might not even be Sheamus who he takes the title from. And if Ambrose had won and received this treatment, fans would have near-rioted. I think Sheamus should have cashed in during the match like Seth Rollins did at WM 31 so that Reigns' first title win wouldn't have ended so quick, but it's clear that Roman will get it back. And despite what fans may think, Roman has done enough in his three years of WWE service to merit a long reign, at least by modern standards. This booking is designed to give Reigns one more mountain to climb to earn his goal, by which point fans shouldn't resent Roman's success. He will have proven himself by then, surely?

Looking ahead, I expect a Sheamus-Reigns TLC showdown for the top title. Ambrose will probably face Kevin Owens for the IC Title, judging by their interaction before and after SS. WWE appeared to be planning a Del Rio-Jack Swagger feud before SS, but rumour has it that John Cena will return at TLC and reclaim his U.S. Title. Elsewhere, Charlotte may defend her Divas Title against Sasha Banks (the "We want Sasha" chants on a weekly basis are impossible to ignore), the New Day will presumably defend their Tag Titles against The Usos; and we may get Wyatt vs. Kane so that Bray can at least begin to rebuild his image.

Since TLC is the last show before WrestleMania Season begins, it's worth making some early predictions for the Royal Rumble-to-WrestleMania period. The only feasible winners for the Rumble at this point are either Reigns or Lesnar (WWE won't give Daniel Bryan a Rumble win if they weren't prepared to do it in 2015). Whichever one of those two doesn't win the Rumble will probably defend the title at WrestleMania, winning it from Sheamus at some point in the next few months. Besides, who else can Lesnar face at Mania? Feuds with Cena, Undertaker and HHH have been done to death; Rock is apparently unavailable for the show due to a film production; Rollins and Orton are injured; and the likes of Ambrose, Owens and Wyatt would need much stronger booking to make them a threat to The Beast Incarnate. Unless WWE somehow brings back Kurt Angle or Batista, or miraculously convinces Stone Cold Steve Austin to come out of retirement, Lesnar will surely be facing Reigns at WrestleMania, probably for the title.

Elsewhere, The Undertaker may or may not retire at WrestleMania, with rumoured opponents to be one of John Cena, Sting or Braun Strowman. Sting would be the dream opponent, but who knows if Sting will wrestle again? (I'm predicting the Stinger to headline the 2016 Hall Of Fame class, though) If that doesn't happen (because of WWE's annoying refusal to make that match happen), Taker vs. Cena is the best option and, if it does mark Taker's finale, it will be a big match to go out on. I really hope that Taker doesn't fight Strowman; it has the potential to spoil the supposedly-biggest WrestleMania of all-time. Whatever the case, I hope that Taker doesn't lose, to ensure that Brock Lesnar remains the only "1" who ever beat Undertaker at WrestleMania.

Elsewhere, the card is a mystery. Triple H needs a new opponent with Rock and Rollins unavailable; perhaps WWE might persuade Batista to return and have his last match here against HHH (The Animal has stated that such a scenario would be his preferred WWE swansong). Besides that, the show at this point is totally unpredictable. Injuries, movies and scandals (in Hogan's case) have disrupted almost every WrestleMania-related scenario, a major problem since WWE was intending to make WM 32 the biggest to date. Hopefully, WWE will be able to put together a show befitting the occasion, because as things stand right now, WrestleMania 32 looks even promising than WM 31 did beforehand (which was unimaginable a year ago; let's not forget, though, that WM 31 ended up being much better than expected).

As for Survivor Series 2015? It wasn't great, to be honest. The tournament matches were all good, with Ambrose-Owens being the stand-out, but most episodes of Raw have at least one match which is better than what we got here. Undertaker's bout was a fitting way to mark his 25th anniversary, but it was definitely more spectacle than match. The other matches didn't do much for me, to be honest. Even the shock ending had a familiar ring to it; Randy Orton became WWE Champ under similar circumstances at SummerSlam 2013, and the MITB cash-in has become more expected than unexpected. (Incidentally, some say that WWE should scrap MITB after this latest instance; to that, I say that WWE simply needs to do a better job of building up stars who merit the briefcase.) It wasn't a garbage show, but the absence of Cena, Rollins, Lesnar, Orton and Cesaro was definitely felt here. WWE made the most of a bad situation, given Seth's injury, but Survivor Series ended up being one of the least spectacular shows of the year. Worth watching for Undertaker's anniversary shenanigans and some moments from the tournament, but nothing else.

Overall Rating: 6.5/10 - Okay

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