Nylons and Midriffs: Push or Pull (December 4, 2019)

Nylons and Midriffs

I believe I can speak for us all when I say that we were fed very well over the last week — both literally and figuratively (in terms of wrestling, of course). Because I am sure many of us took a little break from wrestling due to Thanksgiving, I am going to focus the WWE portions of this post on the pay-per-views that just passed: NXT Takeover: War Games and Survivor Series.

AEW, on the other hand, I will discuss as normal.

It seems at the moment that both promotions are focused on pushing certain female stars pretty hard, but holding (or pulling) back on others. It creates a strange balance for each women’s division that has lead to a power imbalance between main eventers and their potential challengers. Let’s dive right in.

The Good
AEW/NXT War Games: The women’s War Games match was stellar. Absolutely stunningly put together and performed by each woman. The match truly had everything: conniving heel action, suspense, drama, a power struggle, and a happy ending.

Obviously, the star of this match was Rhea Ripley. This match is one that I truly believe we will look back on as the moment that Rhea became a star. Her power, her agility, and her innovation throughout this match threaded everything together.

But, she wasn’t in the match with a bunch of stiffs. Bianca Belair, Candice LeRae, and Io Shirai also carried their weight. Bianca was able to match Rhea’s strength; her three powerbombs to Candice had me yelling at my TV in awe! Candice showed the heart that makes her character as lovable as Bayley’s NXT persona once was. And Io was both intelligent and high-risk with her spots — I mean, that moonsault from the top of the cage? Chef’s kiss.

Oh, and we mustn’t forget about the shenanigans between Dakota Kai and Tegan Nox. Dakota’s beatdown of her beloved friend was one of the most believeable I’ve seen in some time.

The way she continuously slammed the cage door into Tegan’s recovered leg was uncomfortable to watch, particularly because of how well Tegan sold it. You’d think Dakota was breaking her leg with the bloody murder Tegan was screaming. I am very excited to see what Dakota becomes in the months to come.

On the AEW side, I feel things are sort of at a standstill. Nothing bad is happening per se, and the wrestling is by all accounts good. Last week’s tag match featuring Emi Sakura and Bea Priestley along with Hikaru Shida and newcomer Kristen Stadtlander had a slow start, but more energetic finish.

With repeated exposure, I am beginning to understand the characters of the division. But, as we’ll get into in the next section, I’m beginning to wonder if that’s enough.

Survivor Series: The best part of Survivor Series to me was the traditional elimination match. I worried that the number of women involved in the match would hamper its quality with squash-like eliminations. But, each woman at least had a decent showing before they were eliminated. Not only this, but there were a few minutes between each elimination as well, something that previous women’s Survivor Series matches (with fewer participants mind you) did not achieve.

While I vehemently disagree with the booking of this match, I enjoyed that each woman felt important to the match in her own way.

And of course, I would be remiss to leave out Rhea Ripley from this discussion. I think it’s great that she is being put over so strongly as a future star of all three women’s divisions in WWE. It’s refreshing to see a woman put over for her in-ring talent over more superficial things, such as her appearance, her family relations, or mic skills (although Rhea’s are great!). Rhea’s rise feels more organic, like we actually want it, rather than WWE telling us to want it like they so often do.

Stars are made with weekends like the one that Rhea just had. I am clamoring for other women to have a moment similar to hers.

The Bad
AEW/NXT War Games: What I’m currently longing for with the AEW women’s division is more opportunity for the women to get themselves over. Jim Ross mentioned on commentary last week that many of the Asian women on the roster only speak English as a second language. Because of that, I think it is likely that producers are hesitant to let any of them speak on a live mic.

However, there are a decent number of women who do speak English as a first language that aren’t even afforded the opportunity to speak week in and week out. Please correct me in the comments if I am wrong, but I believe the only women we’ve heard speak on an AEW broadcast are Britt Baker and Brandi Rhodes. Although Chris Jericho cuts a promo at least once a week, Riho isn’t even on TV every edition of Dynamite.

Promos, or more plainly the act of speaking, is the wrestler’s opportunity to connect with the audience. To get over. Particularly for a division that is not depending on indie-recognition to get itself over with fans, it is all the more important to let the women get their characters across to viewers. Otherwise, to new fans like me, it just looks like people wearing costumes throwing each other around a ring. Life must be breathed into every woman, English speaking or not.

As for NXT War Games, there isn’t a bad thing to say.

Survivor Series: I loathed the booking of the traditional elimination match. Absolutely hated it. And even though I’ve since simmered down from watching the match play out live, I still maintain that the finish of this match defied logic. I’ll explain.

Firstly, there’s the fact that Io Shirai and Candice LeRae weren’t able to really compete in the match. While I will admit it made sense for those two to be the ones to miss out, because they began the War Games match the night before, it still ultimately meant that the level of wrestling in the match was instantly diminished with less NXT talent in there.

Second, there is the frustration that two of NXT’s competitors were essentially taken out of the match only to return later. Trick or not, I feel that WWE too inconsistently enforces the whole Fake Injury in the Middle of a Match thing for me to believe that both Io and Candice were allowed to simply return to the match without incident. Becky Lynch was allowed to just enter the Royal Rumble this year because of Lana’s injury, and it was debated in storyline for weeks whether or not she was an official entrant in the match. But particularly in that instance, Lana was taken out of the match because she went to the back. When things like this happen, it makes me wish WWE had a rulebook. But then I remember that WWE likely hasn’t implemented this for the very reason the angle took place at Survivor Series: so they can bend their unspoken rules when it’s convenient.

And lastly, I did not like this booking because to me, it made NXT seem like the heels of the match. This was a screwy finish that essentially made it look like NXT thought they needed to cheat to win, which is what heels do. I get that they were being led by a “Cerebral Assassin.” I still feel that this potentially made NXT look weak and conniving when they really didn’t need it, especially when they were being led by a defiant babyface like Rhea.

The only potential upside is that this finish protected the main roster most convincingly. It took NXT scheming a bit to get rid of Sasha Banks, and the main roster teams can (in kayfabe) claim that they didn’t lose fair and square.

Ultimately, if NXT is going to be involved annually with Survivor Series, they should shift War Games to another part of the year. This might have worked this year, but it can’t every year.

I know I’ve spoken at great length about the elimination match, but I did want to touch briefly on the women’s champion triple threat. The match was very underwhelming, and played out predictably.

I wanted desperately to love this match, but it just never kicked into that higher gear to make it a main event caliber match. It was sliggish at parts, and if I’m being honest, Shayna just didn’t seem to gel with Becky and Bayley in the ring.

The star of this match was Bayley, who had a great showing throughout the match. But of course, as the feud led us to believe, she was the one to take the pinfall. And after Shayna’s big win, topping off the night for NXT, Becky effectively stole the spotlight from her.

I did not like the way they booked Becky at the end of this match. It was almost as if Triple H convinced the bookers to let NXT take the night, but WWE execs at the last minute were like “Okay, but we gotta keep Becky looking strong.” She acted very cocky here, beating up Shayna and holding out her arms at her sides soaking in the cheers from the crowd. Had a heel done this, WWE would expect us to boo them. But because it was Becky, we were supposed to…..accept it? Well, I don’t. And I don’t think you should, either.

If you’re going to have Becky lose, just have her lose. Especially since Bayley wasn’t afforded the same luxury in this match.

The Thorny
I am simply unsure where things are going right now for the women in either promotion. I’m not sure if it is because it’s the end of the year, but it just seems like things are going nowhere. Matches are made and wrestled just for the sake of it, with no clear storylines or rivalries tying them together.

Rhea Ripley has been the through-line of most of the discussion here surrounding WWE, but we can use her as a general example for both promotions. What WWE is doing with Rhea right now is how you effectively build a star, a new challenger for a title. People are saying that she’s being pushed strongly, but when I was growing up, her treatment was simply the norm for pushing people in any division. Give them dominant victories. Let them cut promos. Invest in them in the most basic way.

While AEW cannot seem to let their women speak, WWE can’t seem to let more than a handful of their women win or look strong at any given time. And that is why we have no clear challengers for any women’s title across either promotion. Nearly every woman should be given the support that a Charlotte, a Rhea, a Becky, or even a Shayna has. But instead we wait, and we watch, and we hope that our lesser-pushed faves will get a shot one day.

One of the better things about the women’s wrestling of the aughts was that the majority of the women on a given roster could at least say they’d won their division’s title more than once. Now, it seems like a gift to any woman to win a championship one time, if at all. We must continue being honest with ourselves about this if it will one day change. Complacency will only become the norm if we let it.

***

Nearing the end of the year, it is time to start thinking about what we’ve all accomplished this year, and what we hope to achieve in the next. I can only hope the wrestling world is starting think critically about their 2020 vision for women’s wrestling.

Stay legit bossy,
AC

 

Nylons and Midriffs: East Coast, West Coast (November 20, 2019)

Nylons and Midriffs

As we round the corner toward the holidays, I find myself becoming a little burnt out from a tumultuous year for wrestling fans and journalists alike. We’re nearing Survivor Series, and it is usually after this pay-per-view that WWE starts to relent on their break-neck sprint through pay-per-views to end the year. But, with All Elite Wrestling only just coming off the heels of their first proper pay-per-view after debuting on TV, WWE may not have the option to slow down during the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.

That said, I think both promotions are doing great things with their respective women’s divisions. As with anything, though, there is always room for improvement, hence why we’re here week after week! First, let me discuss with you all the beauties (pun intended) that we’ve come across in AEW and NXT in these last two weeks.

The Good
AEW/NXT: I have many scattered thoughts about the excellent wrestling and storyline development I’ve seen in both promotions since I last wrote. I want to first talk about them individually, and then together to point out a coincidental — but positive — thing that both divisions are excelling at right now.

As far as AEW, I am pleased now that we are now entering a phase of television where we can see repeat characters on screen, with new women still showing themselves bit by bit. In the tag match featuring Jamie Hayter and Emmy Sakura versus champion Riho and Shanna, I got more of an idea of each woman’s persona and the stories that they try to consistently tell in their matches. This is what I’ve been wanting from AEW for the past few posts, is for a bit more story to be told with a level of continuity. I absolutely loved the sequence between Riho and her former trainer Emmy to end the match; so smooth and amazing I was actually yelling at my TV in awe watching their grace! I am sad to say that I was unable to see their meeting at Full Gear, but if it was anything like what we saw in that match, I am positive it tore the house down.

In other areas of the division, we saw the return of Nyla Rose and Awesome Kong, the former of which I was beginning to get worried was only used as a diversity trophy of sorts for Dynamite’s big premiere. Seeing both of them return on the same episode of Dynamite made me realize that, just by their shared presence in the division, AEW’s women’s division may be more believable than WWE’s. For example, if Nyla Rose were to ever win the women’s title, she would have believable competition in her weight class to challenge her in the form of Awesome Kong.

WWE’s Survivor Series Dialogic Recap: The Art of Interbrand Manipulation

Scholarly Wrestling Reviews

By Garret Castleberry and Kristine Weglarz

With Survivor Series headed to Houston, WWE once again experiments with the traditional team-up versus team-up formula. A couple of years ago, WWE completely abandoned the traditional four-on-four tag team format when the abrupt injury to WWE heel champion Seth Rollins led to a rushed together tournament designed to put the main title strap on a struggling Roman Reigns. Fast-forward two years and Reigns, for better or worse, still struggles to generate mass appeal due to his “oversaturation” as top babyface for the company. And while Reigns may have headlined a “too sweet” Shield reunion as co-main event, recent illness helped create a last-minute shuffle of the Survivor Series card from the top down.

Last year, Survivor Series capitalized on the resurgence of the “brand split” storyline, pitting red brand (RAW) against blue brand (SmackDown). The five-on-five bout generated a decent amount of heat and placed several new and old superstars and rivals into an ultimately entertaining assembly. This year continued the brand vs. brand formula while upping the invasion-themed ante and clearly setting up possible interactions that could springboard the roster toward the Royal Rumble and the “Road to Wrestlemania,” as it is annually referenced.

In the spirit of WWE’s preferred new formula, our Survivor Series coverage playfully adheres to the pseudo-division of brand representation. Each of our contributors offers commentary and feedback, recorded in a combination of pre-event, in media res, and directly following Survivor Series. To match the WWE’s dualistic theme, we split commentary into the two brands, with Garret (GC) covering from a slightly RAW perspective  and Kristine (KW) representing the SmackDown flair. Our goal is to compliment WWE’s preference for genre admixture while hopefully presenting readers with an asynchronous companion read to accompany future Survivor Series streams.

 

Survivor Series Pre-show

Matt Hardy vs. Elias Samson

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Image Credit: http://www.wwe.com/shows/survivorseries/2017/gallery/matt-hardy-vs-elias-kickoff-match-photos#fid-40185718

KW: One has to wonder with how poorly the WWE has booked Matt Hardy post-WrestleMania tag titles run if he and Jeff were just brought in to cool their competition elsewhere. Elias is a decent heat magnet but both these guys deserve a better build and a better place on the card.

GC: I think this run for the Hardy’s will ultimately end with a “What if?” asterisk beside it. The duo arguably stole the show with the pop of the night at WrestleMania XXXIV, capping off their epic year wrestling as Broken Matt and Brother Nero. That TNA can spike and decline so severely so quickly speaks to the volatility of the wrestling scene at large, particularly outside WWE’s normative formulas and corporate structures. My feeling is that Jeff’s shoulder surgery sidelined any larger role the brothers will have, and we can anticipate an unceremonious Monday Night exit a la The Dudley Boys before them.

KW: I’m fearful you’re right, but hopeful you’re wrong, as the copyright battle continues over the Broken gimmick in the courts. I think if they time it right, Jeff heals up, they could hit the ground running with it in WWE, but I fear they are going to be reduced to a nostalgia act. Shield, take notice. Truthfully, I am amazed that Anthem is still able to put up a legal defense given the circumstances of their business but admittedly I don’t know all the details behind it.

GC: That is funny. You don’t know what corporate parent you will be sponsored as from week to week on Impact, and the only place they can consistently deliver appears to be in court. “Delete!” indeed.

Winner: Elias

Kalisto Vs. Enzo (205 Live)

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Image Credit: http://www.wwe.com/shows/survivorseries/2017/gallery/enzo-amore-kalisto-kickoff-match-photos#fid-40185732

KW: I’ll give credit to both of these folks for getting the cruiserweight division off life support. Enzo works as a heel and keeping him in the division while Cass heals works ok. This division still needs a lot of work before it’s ready to stand on its own, and Enzo might be the ticket to that, but his precarious status with the company makes that increasingly risky. Further, I worry that the perceived glass ceiling of the division will continue to make talent and fans look elsewhere. Part of why the cruiserweight division worked so well in WCW was because the rest of the card was just so bloated with the same faces (NwO, other ex NWA and WWE/WWF guys). The dynamic isn’t the same here.

GC: Enzo and Kalisto, ironically two traditional main roster talents that have crossed over to “save” the struggling Cruiserweight division and 205 Live on the network. I still have not watched 205 Live and anyone that writes or talks about it has little positive to say. But I admire the RAW producers for giving Enzo and company the main event spotlight across several weeks leading up to the PPV. Too bad they still barely made the pre-show.

Winner: Enzo

Owens/Zayn vs. Breezango

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Image Credit: http://www.wwe.com/shows/survivorseries/2017/gallery/breezango-vs-kevin-owens-sami-zayn-survivor-series-kickoff-match#fid-40185774

KW: These guys should still both not be on the pre-show. Arguments aside about pre-shows being used to hype up interest, they’re both teams that are well over with crowds (heat/punishments aside). Owens and Zayn breaking the fourth wall and calling the booking what it is with a worked shoot. Credit to the bookers for giving Zayn/Owens mic time even on the pre-show. On a side note, it bears repeating that the Breezango experiment really serves as a testament to the successes of the brand split, and in particular, how WWE has positioned SmackDown vis-a-vis RAW. Prior to the brand split and this team pairing, both Breeze and Fandango were barely on tv and used mostly for house shows. Their ability to get tv segments and matches, and now a pre-show match given their previous low booking status and get audiences invested in them likely would not have happened if they remained on the crowded landscape that was/is RAW. Despite this, Zayn and Owens needed the win more than Breezango to keep their momentum as a team going and I am not so sure we won’t see them later on in the PPV.

GC: Recapping from a slight time delay, when you contacted me with dismay that Zayn and Owens landed on the Survivor Series pre-show, my heart nearly skipped a beat with relief given recent negative rumors that the two were sent home early from the European tour. I’ve quite enjoyed Zayn’s Gen X’er tweener heel turn, and I love that he’s retained the Ska entrance music with ironically larger dance-stomps. Bottom line: fans should remember that Owens got to “grab that brass ring” recently with a signature headbutt to THE Chairman and CEO, Vince McMahon. This is the larger sign of importance and trust regardless of where the duo landed on the card (see Dean Ambrose WrestleMania XXXIII pre-show IC match earlier this year). At the same time, if the two truly were sent home early (not as a work), then I would speculate that this is what led to the near complete card shake up, including The Shield’s placement, Reigns out of the co-Main Event, and perhaps even AJ Styles’ abrupt WWE Championship win.

KW: Truthfully, the match was just announced either yesterday or today, so while there’s no way to know how far in advance it was thought out, it doesn’t appear to be part of a long term strategy. There’s no booking to back it up either. I love Zayn in general and I’ve enjoyed his recent heel-turn, but to be fair I thought he was one of the most organic faces the company’s created in a while, and truthfully I’m looking forward to his eventual return to face.

Winners: Owens/Zayn

The Shield vs. The New Day

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Image Credit: http://www.wwe.com/shows/survivorseries/2017/gallery/the-shield-the-new-day-photos#fid-40185815

KW: I continue to love factions in wrestling, and wish they did more than just tag teams in WWE. New Day and the Shield represent the few overtures towards factions WWE has put out recently. Interesting foreshadowing here by New Day of internal fractures within the Shield, and their inevitable re-breaking up. I have to admit there is a certain excitement about a PPV that isn’t Roman-centric, though it is surprising given how frequently the Survivor Series debut of the Shield gets mentioned by commentary. Roman still struggles to get over even when paired with Seth and Dean again, which does not bode well if they’re going to continue pushing him as a face at the top of the company. Roman gets in his usual mid-match rest outside of the ring. RAW with the win this time—a fantastic, long, well done match that serves as a good start to the show. I may not love the Shield as faces but I’d take a face Shield over no Shield at all. Full credit to the New Day for carrying their half of the match; they’re regularly in the best match of any particular PPV with or without titles on the line, much as the Shield were pre-breakup. They continue to serve as an anchor for the SmackDown brand regardless of title status, in fact, they don’t need them.

GC: What are your thoughts on the split-style T-shirts sported by Shield members? I wonder if those are on sale tonight only at the event. The half red/RAW and half-Shield is oddly indicative of a wasted revival for this beloved faction. There was no doubt that the team would one day rejoin. However, the move came quite soon in this reviewer’s opinion, which takes a bit of the emotional reaction out of the fan experience. To further complicate matters, we have Reigns going down due to illness prior to TLC and The Shield’s planned PPV reunion became a gimmick that was overshadowed by Kurt Angle’s big return. Now, we have The Shield up against a drastically cooled down New Day, in a largely lopsided matchup that appears to be the official show opener. So much for capitalizing on a foolproof faction.

KW: Those shirts…. are something else. I suppose it beats their debut attire (turtlenecks) but just barely. A good match, but the Shield reunion is clearly setting up for a future heel turn (probably Dean, he’s overdue).

GC: I will say that there was way more offense featured in this opener than I would have guessed. I do not think that these two match up at all from a narrative perspective. The New Day is so comically gimmick-based. Plus, that onesy on Big E! It literally makes no sense when Rollins and Ambrose essentially went two on five at TLC against mostly big men, so it took nearly the whole match to get me into the action. However, the false finish was nice and both groups really ratcheted up the action for an *obvious* finish. I do feel bad for Reigns as he simply cannot win over the large crowds probably from here on out.

Winners: The Shield

SmackDown vs Raw Women’s Division (Becky Lynch, Tamina, Naomi, Carmella, Natalya (with Lana) vs. Alicia Fox, Sasha Banks, Bayley, Nia Jax, and Asuka)

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Image Credit: http://www.wwe.com/shows/survivorseries/2017/gallery/womens-5-on-5-traditional-survivor-series-elimination-match-photos#fid-40185826

KW: I have to admit I’m a little lost on the booking here, having two of the most over women get pinned first. The Nia/Tamina tease is a fantastic one, and it’s a shame that this is likely the only time these two will face off, as they sort of represent the one monster heel woman for each brand. When setting up this match, it really revealed the problems with the SmackDown women’s roster. Charlotte is a recent addition (and she’s in a different match) but SmackDown has struggled to book really compelling women’s champions outside of Becky Lynch and Alexa Bliss (who is now with RAW). This wasn’t helped in the least by having the first ever women’s money in the bank match won by recently released James Ellsworth, decidedly not female, on behalf of Carmella. I’ve often wondered if the women’s roster would benefit from being on one brand given its size but I fear it would get even less time as a result. Let’s be real though, this is the Asuka show, we’re just living in it.

GC: I am digging Nia Jax’s braids in that backstage segment. But I cannot handle Alicia Fox on any roster at this point. The campy tone of her persona—and those line readings—are not winning USA Network any new viewers. Thank you, Corey Graves, for filler like, “Byron, Naomi’s dancing so you don’t have to–knock it off!” That said, Naomi really has been able to innovate her “Feel the Glow” gimmick far longer than anyone could have anticipated. In other intro news, it was nice to see Asuka receive RAW’s final entrance. Do they have something special in store after her flat main roster start against Emma?

Once the match started, I was quite let down that Becky Lynch had to fall on the rollup sword. However, like Charlotte she is politely playing a rotational role long after they stole the show with Sasha Banks at WrestleMania XXXIII. Likewise, Nia’s elimination was the dumbest count out I’ve ever seen, what with Tamina entering and exiting twice during the ref’s count. This ref also botched the timing of Bayley’s pinfall (or was it the other way around—yipes). One memorable moment comes when Tamina and Nia square off for the first time. It was a pretty cool stair down that led to the logical count out. Similar to Lynch’s early exit, this strategic move helped provide an underdog scenario for team RAW and a spotlight opportunity for the smaller performers late.

Sole Survivor: Asuka (Team RAW)

Intermission commentary

KW: Daniel Bryan’s on screen role as General Manager of SmackDown has done so much of the heavy lifting to level out the discrepancy between the two shows. With the rumors that he will leave the company next year if he isn’t cleared to wrestle, SmackDown and WWE in general needs to look really critically at how they want to position the Blue brand in light of his potential departure; these are big shoes to fill.

GC: Am I the only one that cannot understand for the life of me why Daniel Bryan doesn’t look more “TV ready” on SmackDown? I know he’s an herbal dude, all natural and everything that goes with a clean organic lifestyle, but surely there’s a cage free makeup kit that could enhance his on camera presence (or at least eliminate the greasy hair and crow’s’ eyes). Maybe he’s just performing “tired dad,” in which case, I completely get it!

KW: There was a rumor I read that he’s growing his hair out for a hair vs. hair match in case he’s cleared to wrestle. The hair is too short to ponytail I suppose. I miss Jesus-looking Daniel Bryan, but I’ll take tired dad Bryan too.

Daniel Bryan could definitely sport a man bun and fans would get behind it.

Baron Corbin vs. The Miz

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Image Credit: http://www.wwe.com/shows/survivorseries/2017/gallery/the-miz-baron-corbin-photos#fid-40185880

KW: I’ll give Corbin credit for “most improved since NXT.” He’s occasionally incredibly entertaining to watch in the ring, with a great finishing move, and has the potential to be a good talker now and then. That said, the last few years for the Miz have been astronomically great, and he is easily one of the best heat magnets in the WWE right now. I will say though that it was Talking Smack, the SmackDown post-show that was recently cancelled that really gave the Miz his launching pad, prior to his trade over to Raw. The cancellation of that show continues to elude me in terms of reasons, as it did more for character development and match promotion than an hour and change of RAW normally provides. Corbin needs this match more than the Miz does, if only because he’s seemed sort of directionless lately, as has the US title since AJ Styles dropped it.

GC: It is very clear from the two opening RAW wins that SmackDown will level out the main event somehow. Same (I prognosticate) with Corbin over Miz. The Miztourage has been a great way to extend, or should we say RAW-size, Miz’s current persona. He is WWE’s top talker right now and has been for over a year. Given a decade’s worth of time on the clock, at this point he has no problem putting others over under a premium heel banner.

KW: My only hope is that The Miztourage doesn’t suffer the same fate as Damien Sandow. I couldn’t care less about Bo Dallas but poor Curtis Axel deserves something to work with. And while we’re on the subject of bad booking, what in god’s name happened to Bray Wyatt? I feel like he might win the award for worst booking of the last five years.

GC: Miz versus Corbin was the definition of mid-card filler. There was actually plenty of action, almost nonstop in fact. And I do like that WWE pitted two heels against one another. But I felt no investment whatsoever and couldn’t care less about the outcome. They did their part, they’ll cash their checks, and go back to their brands. Next.

Winner: Baron Corbin

The BAR vs. The Usos

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Image Credit: http://www.wwe.com/shows/survivorseries/2017/gallery/cesaro-sheamus-the-usos-photos#fid-40185918

KW: Credit to both these teams for totally rebranding themselves in the best way possible in the last year and change. Sheamus and Cesaro work as a fantastic tag team and Cesaro’s long been overdue for some recognition. The Usos however have managed to go from a boring but competent team to a team I actually want to watch wrestle, and who can cut decent promos. Their heel turn was long overdue and did them every favor imaginable. The second match in a row on this card featuring heels vs. heels. While I realize that the format of Survivor Series often necessitates that, I’m surprised by how well it works, but I think this is due in part to how well these heels are booked and the degree to which they’re over. This may not necessarily be the case for faces, which WWE struggles to book with the same strength. If only the rest of the SmackDown tag teams could be booked as well as the Usos, because outside of them and New Day, the tag team division in SmackDown is pretty weak and relatively thin. Commentary is doing a great job of bringing in continuity here from previous Survivor Series with these teams, a testament to the degree to which the commentary teams have improved with the brand split. No one does the hot tag better than the Usos, and they deserve a decently long title reign.

GC: Another filler match unfortunately. The Usos have picked up interest and momentum since turning heel (and the WrestleMania snub), and Cesaro/Sheamus is a team I’m sympathetic toward. These guys, like Miz, are making the most of their situation (the brass ring doesn’t tug when Cesaro pulls it, apparently), and I still can’t get over his dental accident at TLC.

KW: I guess I could see how you’d view it as filler, because really how do you book these inter-brand matches with a backstory? Apparently Vince has a weird thing where he finds it just endlessly entertaining for Cesaro to do his promos with his mouthguard in. I’ll leave you to think about that one.

GC: Oh, I’ve noticed Cesaro’s mouthpiece lisp all right. In a truly bizarre coincidence, the week before Cesaro’s accident, I have a young nephew that experienced nearly the exact same accident (but off a bunk bed). The dental surgeon recommended waiting 1-2 months to see if the teeth would naturally drop or not. I kind of assumed Cesaro might be in a similar wait-and-see position. He needs to stay off the mic entirely right now, because that is not helping his situation. If there is a silver lining, at least these performers have been allowed pretty respectable match times. No real squash matches have also kept both brands strong. On top of that, the Usos win makes the “official” scorecard 2-2, which opens up the Women’s Champion vs. Champion match by making the victor less predictable.

Winners: The Usos

Alexa Bliss vs Charlotte Flair

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Image Credit: http://www.wwe.com/shows/survivorseries/2017/gallery/alexa-bliss-charlotte-flair-photos#fid-40185953

KW: With the recent title change from Natalya to Charlotte, I feel like this match never really got the buildup it deserved. While having Charlotte hold the title was probably the right choice, a few more weeks of buildup for this feud would have done wonders. I will say the audience is into this match (as am I) which is a nice change from so many years of women’s matches at PPVs. I’m pleasantly surprised by the physicality of this match and the length of it thus far, though this does make me worry that AJ vs Brock is going to be a five-minute one and done squash.

GC: Did you notice how Charlotte as babyface features a more natural look, whereas her heel persona, like Bliss’s, is heavy on the dramatic David Bowie eyeliner? Alexa Bliss’s eyeliner seemingly gets its own backstage segments on RAW in recent weeks (unconfirmed). This is a fantastic match, and I might suggest this joins the women’s roster elimination match as the only rewatchable bouts from this PPV (so far). These two are selling hard and looking strong at the same time. Credit Charlotte for not pushing or allowing for a quick ending. And rather than the pin, she does get Bliss to tap out. Well done.

Winner: Charlotte Flair

Brock Lesnar vs. AJ Styles

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Image Credit: http://www.wwe.com/shows/survivorseries/2017/gallery/brock-lesnar-aj-styles-photos#fid-40185988

KW: I’m not sure if I’m in the majority or minority when it comes to Brock as champ: I like Brock Lesnar (and I LOVE Paul Heyman) but I’ve always disliked the silly argument about raising the prestige of the belt when he doesn’t defend it at every RAW branded PPV. Arguments about part-timers aside (and they are legitimate arguments), this match has me worried. I truthfully see no way AJ wins this one because of how protected Brock is, and the foreshadowing they had with Jinder Mahal in the pre-show, and all it does is hurt AJ as champ. Brock can take the loss, and eventually will have too, but as they’re probably saving it for the unsatisfying match with Roman Reigns, I wish they’d have him lose. AJ Styles has been the best addition to both SmackDown and WWE in the last few years, losing not a single step from how hot he was in New Japan. AJ Styles can get a good match out of a broom, but I’m curious to see if he can make it work here.

The audience seems to be slightly more behind Styles but this squash match is painful to watch right now. Commentary is referencing the Cena/Brock match from Summer Slam 2014 and setting this up as some sort of a parallel, but that match came at the end of a long period of LOLCENAWINS and seeing Cena just get demolished was pure catharsis. There’s been no such LOLAJWINS with AJ Styles entrance into the WWE. A brief but brutal moment where AJ had the calf crusher locked in and a few minutes of impressive offense from AJ Styles afterwards provided a rare moment in most Brock matches where an opponent gets in some convincing offense. One of Brock’s better matches lately but I’m over him holding the Universal title.

GC: I was decently interested to see how up-and-comer Jinder Mahal stacks up against the establishment beast-heel in Brock Lesnar. However, the last-minute title change got me all kinds of jacked up for the WWE Champion versus Universal Champion match. While Brock’s protection is a foregone conclusion, how the match plays out felt intriguing no matter the direction they took. The start of the match features outright domination by Lesnar, a visual sequel to his takedown of Roman Reigns at WrestleMania XXXI and of John Cena prior to that. But unlike the Reigns match, AJ musters the gumption to hang on just long enough for Lesnar to get winded. Then, AJ’s stamina kicks in and the match elevates to another level.

Continuing the through line of keeping both brands strong, by allowing AJ to get a fair amount of licks in, this easily became Brock’s best match since his Hell in a Cell with The Undertaker two years ago. They gave WWE Universe and smart marks alike a memorable encounter that will be on dialogic replay for years to come. I am not offended by part-timers in the least bit, and even less offended by part-time champions (especially considering the ridiculous number of belts floating around this company). While I wanted to see Braun Strowman or Samoa Joe previously defeat Brock, I understand his need to keep his wins going at this point. After all, he did collapse the Undertaker’s streak (and not for nothin’). Examining all the cut marks covering both competitors, as well as Brock’s Undertaker-esque hard sell on his left knee injury, this match qualifies as an instant classic.

Winner: Brock Lesnar

RAW vs. SmackDown (Kurt Angle, Finn Balor, Samoa Joe, Braun Strowman, Triple H vs. Shane McMahon, Randy Orton, Shinsuke Nakamura, Bobby Roode, John Cena)

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Image Credit: http://www.wwe.com/shows/survivorseries/2017/gallery/mens-5-on-5-traditional-survivor-series-elimination-match-results#fid-40186044

GC: Thinking about the entrances, Triple H would get his own signature red T-shirt while everyone else has to play ball (including Strowman). He just can’t help himself. Hmm, Michael Cole just said that only Kane and The Undertaker have appeared in more PPVs…I wonder how far off H is? FYI, he seems to be getting the full intro while Angle, Balor, et al. received abbreviated status. Some things never change (again, not really complaining but it doesn’t go unnoticed either).

I LOVE how stacked this main event is. That said, Busted Open radio brought up the average age of the main event participants. I think the number they through out was like, 37.5, but I feel like that number is more like 40 at least. Also, I’m going to go against the haters and say I like Cena’s new lime green T-shirt and sweatbands (incidentally getting separate merch like H).

KW: Someone aptly pointed out on Reddit the ages of all the participants in the main event. Not to take anything away from any of them, especially Finn Balor, Nakamura, Strowman, Roode, Joe, folks new-ish to WWE, but they made a good point: this is a relatively old main event, or the roster itself is aging. I say that in light of the fact that I still think getting Jason Jordan out of the main event was a smart idea. Jordan isn’t remotely over, the storyline with him being the son of Kurt Angle is bizarre and not working, and I have no idea what they were thinking splitting him and Chad Gable up, especially given the need for more tag teams. Bray Wyatt would have been a nice inclusion here but as previously mentioned, his booking since moving to RAW has been awful, especially given he was WWE Champion and Tag Team Champion on SmackDown, and it worked. The entire Wyatt family deserves better than their last year or so of booking and I hope they get a chance to hit the reset button soon, and perhaps move Wyatt back to SmackDown for his own good.

GC: I am in the majority that feels Bray Wyatt, no matter how talented, is as cold as ice right now and essentially a notch above “enhancement talent.” Ditto and I agree about Jason Jordan. Part of me feels the audience was already headed for a bait-and-switch on that position. Its possible WWE is setting up a father-son match as the proverbial placeholder on the way to an Angle-HHH Mania. I don’t really think they ended up with a single weak link in this main event, and perhaps the audience was treated to a true passing of the torch between the old guard of the last generation and the faces that dominated the main event scene of NXT over the last three years. Both the female and male co-main events was smartly booked, particularly for “big four” PPV appeal.

KW: Shinsuke being pinned early was questionable, as despite a less than stellar start on the main roster, Nakamura’s been consistently one of the most over performers. Interestingly, I had to remind myself that Cena, Orton and HHH were in this match, as my focus was entirely on everyone else. That was until Cena and Angle were both in the ring at the same time, and I legitimately got goosebumps, never sure I would see this match again.

GC: I heard commentators complain about the possibility that the fresh blood would be eliminated early. But guess what? Come for the spectacle, stay for the drama. The story is in the returning hierarchy, and actually, the ending does an immense job putting over the new talent. WWE kept HHH off of TV for a really long time, and even his WrestleMania lead-in to Seth Rollins was limited by his own standard. While his entrance felt entirely random last Monday, the crowd still pops every time. He earned this return, and once again H got to have his cake and eat it too. Hunter truly is a McMahon.

KW: I’ll say this much, Shane McMahon has no right to be this entertaining at this age, and holy hell, if they could book everyone they way Strowman has been booked, the quality of the product would be infinitely better. I guess it wouldn’t be a Survivor Series without a screwjob. Well played and well-time interferences by HHH on Kurt Angle, with Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens running interference by jumping Shane McMahon before that.

GC: Like most of the card for this year’s Survivor Series, this match was very well paced. One of the strong points lies in how the main eventers allowed time for inaugural stare downs so that the audience could savor brand new match-ups not only between brands, but also between untapped encounters like Nakamura against Finn Balor, HHH and Bobby Roode, and Braun Strowman against both Randy Orton and John Cena. This match has a little of everything, and in an era of insta-reactions and toxic social media uprisings, I would argue this match was booked about as logically as one could ever hope for. And for the haters that will be mad at Joe, Balor, Nakamura, and Roode’s early exits, remember that these superstars got the elevating rub by appearing in the main event.

Winning Brand: Team RAW

Sole Survivor(s): HHH and Braun Strowman

Anniversary Screwjob: HHH pedigrees Kurt Angle

Lasting Impression: An organic Braun Strowman babyface turn.