Well, if we thought last week’s Raw was chaotic, this week things were ramped up this week in the build to Survivor Series. Ronda Rousey was a big part of that, cutting a memorable if not slightly odd promo on “millennial” Becky Lynch in promotion of their (at the time) upcoming Survivor Series match (we’ll get to that later). Rousey was awkward, but I appreciate what they were trying to achieve, although I hope this isn’t the direction they take her character in general terms. When you pair this up with Rousey’s earlier appearance in the opening segment alongside Braun Strowman, Stephanie McMahon and Baron Corbin it seemed like a pretty standard build for Rousey’s big match, and then out of nowhere we got a cracking final segment with Becky Lynch attacking Rousey, putting her in the Dis-arm-her backstage before leading an assault on the Raw Survivor Series team of Mickie James, Nia Jax, Tamina, Ruby Riott (with Natalya missing having been sent home after her earlier tussle with Riott), as well as Bayley and Sasha Banks who were competing in the main event. The Smackdown invaders of Naomi, Asuka, The IIconics, and Charlotte joined Lynch which led to the obligatory inter-brand brawl. Charlotte joining Lynch even their recent issues seemed a bit odd, but given the precedent of brand solidarity trumping personal rivalries has been set in previous years, it’s easy to overlook. Becky Lynch taking out Rousey, both backstage and in the ring before standing triumphant, bloody and with the crowd on her side was magnificent. This felt like a star-making, breakout moment for Lynch and both solidified her as the biggest babyface in the company, but also created a huge buzz around the match on Sunday. Sadly, as we found out on Smackdown this match is now not happening, due to Lynch not being medically cleared from the injuries she suffered during this segment, chiefly a stiff blow from Nia Jax. I’ve seen Jax vilified online for this, and while it was a screw-up, accidents do happen. Jax is still not quite the finished article, and probably could do with some refinement, but I don’t think she’s necessarily dangerous. As a great man once said, it ain't ballet. Losing this bout is a blow, for sure, but looking at this segment in isolation it was a definite win for WWE, and Lynch in particular.
The Survivor Series teams were a big feature on this show. The opening segment with Braun Strowman (who is now a babyface again, and we are just supposed to forget his heel turn and alliance with Dolph Ziggler and Drew McIntyre) destroying the tag division showed a lack of respect from the company towards the Raw tag division (although that is nothing new) but it made Strowman look like an absolute beast. Also when they re-did the tag battle royal later in the night it lasted all of three minutes with Chad Gable and Bobby Roode winning in short order to become captains of the Raw tag team unit at Survivor Series, so the stakes were minimal. Anyway, Strowman made quite the impression, and Stephanie did a very good job of stressing the importance of the Survivor Series match. This sets up Strowman’s slate for the rest of the year with a match against Baron Corbin to give him payback for the interference at Crown Jewel, but also a title match with Brock Lesnar, presumably at TLC or Survivor Series. Ronda Rousey coming out mid-segment was slightly jarring, but her interactions with Stephanie, as well as Corbin getting a bit of comeuppance from Rousey, made for a nice moment, especially given Strowman has to wait for his revenge. All in all, it kept Survivor Series at the forefront of everything but also hinted at some future programmes too.
The rest of the show was pretty enjoyable overall. Bobby Lashley and Elias had a very average match, although the pre-match promo from Elias was very good, and Lio Rush continues to excel as Lashley’s hype man/dickhead friend. Drew McIntyre cut a superb promo on Kurt Angle before having a confrontation with Finn Balor. The resultant match between Balor and Dolph Ziggler was very good, although nothing that we’ve not seen before, but it keeps the Balor-McIntyre feud bubbling and the dissension between Team Raw members in the mix for Sunday. Tamina vs Ember Moon wasn’t great and the Superfly splash at the end was very ugly. The Riott Squad- Natalya segment was predictable but set up Natalya being sent home, which played into the show-closing angle. Brock Lesnar squashing Jinder Mahal was a fun segment although I fear for the health of The Singh Brothers after those suplexes. Lesnar has spent so long being portrayed as a mercenary heel who plans to leave the company (it’s not a stretch really, is it?) that seeing him portrayed as a babyface of sorts initially seemed slightly out of place, but after this, I was ready to see him and AJ Styles face-off. Of course, we now know that won’t be happening, but we’ll get to that shortly. Finally, Seth Rollins got some answers from Dean Ambrose on his heel turn, without actually giving a real reason other than Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns making him “weak”. Ambrose sitting on a car with a burning oil drum and setting fire to his Shield vest was a little over-the-top but it cemented Ambrose’s stance as a heel, so it did what was necessary to move this story forward.
A serviceable, busy episode of Raw with lent going on ahead of Survivor Series. While two weeks is not long to build a PPV, WWE has done a creditable job on the red brand of getting everything in place going into Sunday’s show.
Coming out of Raw, it looked like we knew the final card for Sunday’s Survivor Series show, and while things had been changed and moved around we were ready for the last push. By the end of Smackdown, everything had changed. The opening segment with AJ Styles hyping his champion vs champion bout with Lesnar on Sunday, only to be interrupted by Paul Heyman initially felt like the standard WWE build, but Heyman bringing up Daniel Bryan was completely out-of-the-blue. Bryan coming out and brawling with Styles after they exchanged words should also have been a red flag, but no-one could have anticipated the outcome of the main event. Much like with AJ Styles a year ago, WWE pulled a massive swerve and did a title change on Smackdown before Survivor Series, radically altering the show’s line-up. Now, of course, the match between AJ and Bryan was superb, you would expect nothing less given their stellar encounter before Crown Jewel. However, the difference here is that Bryan turned heel in the process and won the title. Honestly, I could not have predicted this, it seemed unthinkable only a few short months ago when Bryan was cleared to return, but WWE have fluffed the booking of Bryan so badly to this point that a heel turn seems like a decidedly fresh direction and I imagine he will revel in turning the fans against him. It was certainly a surprise, but it does mean we get the long-awaited Bryan vs Lesnar match at Survivor Series which should be an absolute classic of a bout, and given what happened with the Lynch-Rousey match, it is the new clear main event for the show.
Following on from Monday’s closing angle, it looked like Becky Lynch vs Ronda Rousey would be the biggest thing in wrestling, but sadly we found out on Smackdown that due to an errant punch from Nia Jax, Lynch will not be cleared to wrestle on Sunday. She did cut a white-hot promo which kept her heat, blaming WWE for not clearing her and ran through the roster before settling on Charlotte as her replacement to face Rousey. While it was not the preferable outcome, this was well handled and although I would have stopped short of the embrace between the former friends, I can see why they chose that route. Charlotte vs Ronda was long touted as the biggest available match for Rousey, maybe even Wrestlemania main event worthy, button use it here suggests plans have changed and perhaps Becky Lynch and Charlotte may have been swapped around, which if true makes this necessary swap a blessing in disguise. The one person I feel sorry for here is Asuka, who got a big reaction from the audience but was clearly never truly in the conversation. Still, hopefully, that signals WWE having a plan for her in the longer term, as well the idea that she can be rehabbed from her less-than-stellar booking this year. Overall, in the circumstances, this was a very well executed segment and put together the next-most exciting match available for Sunday’s show.
The rest of the show was enjoyable, but there was no hope of it eclipsing the two big segments with the title change and the Becky announcement. Rey Mysterio vs The Miz (who is now the solo Smackdown Captain, for reasons I’m not sure were satisfactorily explained) was a decent TV match, but I can’t imagine anyone remembering it in a month’s time. The Bar and The Big Show vs The New Day was fine, but again it struggled to stand out on this show. Finally, Jeff Hardy and Andrade “Cien” Almas had a very good encounter that is well worth seeking out, although the baffling decision to put Hardy over Almas is something of a headscratcher.
Smackdown was an intriguing watch this week, and while it missed the frenetic energy of Raw, it certainly made up for that with some big moments that have huge reverberations on the Survivor Series card.
Fighting with my familyEarlier this week the trailer dropped for the upcoming movie about the life of Smackdown GM Paige, and her journey to the WWE as well as growing up in a family of wrestlers. For those who may not know Paige is the daughter of Ricky Knight who wrestled extensively on the UK scene and promotes the long-running WAW company in Norfolk, while her mother and brothers are also veterans of the industry. The film is loosely based on the family and features cameos from Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, who is serving as Executive Producer having bought the rights to the story after seeing a Channel 4 documentary on the family a few years ago. With Nick Frost, Lena Headey and Florence Pugh on board this has the potential to be one of the few halfway decent films about wrestling, and one of the even fewer that is not insulting to wrestling fans. We shall see in February, but based on the trailer I have high hopes.
Survivor Series preview
I have always had something of a soft spot for Survivor Series. Ever since I was a kid, I always enjoyed the elimination tag matches, and it was presented for many years as a big show, only overshadowed by Wrestlemania, Royal Rumble and Summerslam. However, these days it is more of a throwaway affair based on “brand rivalry”, and often it makes the whole event inconsequential. That said, it does mean that we get matches that otherwise might not happen, and it can result in some cracking matches from an in-ring perspective. As previously mentioned, this year’s event has been through a number of changes, some by choice and some which were forced upon WWE. However, what we have now should be, barring any last-minute changes, the final card.
With the changes that have happened, the main event of this show can only be one match, Daniel Bryan vs Brock Lesnar. While there has been no time to make this a personal battle, the clash of styles makes this a fascinating clash. Previously, you would have assumed that Bryan would be the natural babyface here, but given the events on Raw and Smackdown, he is cast in the role of the heel here. It makes for a super-intriguing dynamic and what could be a fantastic main event. However, while it may be the main event, I wonder whether the Raw vs Smackdown men's singles 5-on-5 match will actually go on last unless Braun Strowman is getting involved with Lesnar/Bryan after what seems like an inevitable Raw win given the stakes attached.
In the build-up to this show, the match with the most intrigue was Becky Lynch vs Ronda Rousey, but with Lynch out of action with a “broken face”, Rousey vs Charlotte is clearly the next best thing. There is no doubt in my mind that this will be an excellent contest, probably Rousey’s best since her debut at Wrestlemania. Given the pending Nia Jax programme for Rousey, and the wording of Lynch’s injury it may be that one or the other has some physical involvement in the finish here. Either way, it seems a safe bet that Rousey is not losing clean. The all-women’s 5-on-5 match could be brilliant, or a disaster depending on how it’s booked, although the intrigue over the final member could provide a nice surprise, although I’m not sure who is likely to get the nod. Mandy Rose seems like a possibility, as does one of the IIconics, but it could just as easily be a call-up from NXT, maybe Nikki Storm (although she might technically already be on Smackdown with Sanity).
The rest of the show is a mixed bag for the most part. Given time Seth Rollins vs Shinsuke Nakamura could be something very special, bordering on dream match territory, but I can’t see it being given the time it deserves, and I could easily see a Dean Ambrose interference spot sullying the match with a cheap finish. The tag team elimination match will likely be a clusterfuck of little consequence, while AoP vs The Bar feels like a strange combination, although the match should be at least passable. Finally, there is the only non-Interbrand match on the show as Cruiserweight champion Buddy Murphy takes on Mustafa Ali in what could be one of the unexpected gems on this show, but will likely be buried on the pre-show.
Survivor Series on paper looks like a very good show and while the matches should all deliver in a big way, however, it will almost certainly suffer from the same issues that last year’s show was hampered by. A lack of stakes really does make these matches seem inconsequential but hopefully, there is enough going on here to make that a secondary concern.
Well, that is it from me for this week. I will be back at the same time next week with all the news from Survivor Series, as well as Raw and Smackdown, and touching on any major stories that might break in the next week. In the meantime, keep it locked here at Screenjabber for all the best movie, Blu-ray, DVD and video game reviews, as well as all the latest news, podcasts and more. Until next time, so long folks.