WWE Survivor Series: highlights, grades and analysis

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WWE Survivor Series: highlights, grades and analysis

Shayna Baszler, Becky Lynch and Bayley underwhelm in the main event. | Photo by: Uproxx

Shayna Baszler, Becky Lynch and Bayley underwhelm in the main event. | Photo by: Uproxx

Shayna Baszler, Becky Lynch and Bayley underwhelm in the main event. | Photo by: Uproxx

Shayna Baszler, Becky Lynch and Bayley underwhelm in the main event. | Photo by: Uproxx

Matthew Rago, Sports Editor

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WWE returned to the Allstate Arena in Chicago, Ill., for the 32nd edition of their annual Survivor Series pay-per-view event. For the first time in history, NXT will compete for brand supremacy. How did the event unfold? Which brand came out on top? Let’s take a look.

Tag Team Over-the-Top-Rope Battle Royal

Highlights: 

  • Lince Dorado eliminates Steve Cutler of the Forgotten Sons
  • Dorado is eliminates, subsequently eliminating the Lucha House Party
  • Imperium eliminates Zack Ryder and Curt Hawkins
  • Robert Roode eliminates Imperium
  • Otis Dozovic botches the Caterpillar
  • The OC and The Revival team up to eliminate Heavy Machinery
  • Fandango catches Tyler Breeze after he gets knocked off the ring apron; the Revival eliminate Breezango
  • The Street Profits eliminate The Revival with tandem dropkicks
  • Dolph Ziggler eliminates the OC by superkicking Luke Gallows off the apron
  • Ziggler accidentally superkicks Roode
  • Roode eliminates the Street Profits

Results: Ziggler and Roode defeat the field

Grade: C

Analysis: Even for a filler battle royal, this match was remarkably forgettable. The contest failed to advance storylines, failed to offer tangible takes and no tag team enhanced their standing within their respective brand. Ziggler and Roode’s victory was a peculiar choice as they haven’t been highlighted since losing the Raw Tag Team Championships to the Viking Raiders. WWE also missed an opportunity to showcase an NXT tag team, opting instead to eliminate every NXT tandem outside of main roster demotees Breezango in the early going.

NXT Cruiserweight Championship Triple Threat Match: Lio Rush (c) vs. Akira Tozawa vs. Kalisto

Highlights:

  • Lio Rush executes a double springboard elbow
  • Rush hits a double, top rope Spanish Fly on both Kalisto and Tozawa.
  • Tozawa, Rush and Kalisto engage in an extended series of quickfire strikes
  • Kalisto counters a Tozawa bridged pinfall attempt by stepping on Tozawa’s abdomen and flipping into a pinfall attempt of his own
  • Tozawa hits a top rope senton for a near fall; Kalisto breaks up the pin
  • Kalisto executes a Salida Del Sol on Tozawa before Rush lands a Final Hour for the pinfall

Result: Rush defeats Kalisto and Tozawa via pinfall to retain the NXT Cruiserweight Championship

Grade: B-

Analysis: This was a fun sprint of a match between three former or current cruiserweight champions that served to whet the Chicago crowd’s palate. Rush, Tozawa and Kalisto each shined in brief flurries, offering a brief glimpse of the dormant potential of the cruiserweight division. However, with the entire division being relegated to NXT television, the division’s booking has been too inconsistent for fans to truly invest in.

Nevertheless, for a last minute addition to the preshow, this match served it purpose.

 

Raw Tag Team Champions The Viking Raiders vs. NXT Tag Team Champions The Undisputed Era vs. Smackdown Tag Team Champions The New Day

Highlights:

  • Ivar scoop slams Erik onto Bobby Fish
  • Kyle O’Reilly hits a top rope knee drop onto Kingston’s knee before transitioning into a knee bar
  • Erik executes a deadlift, overhead suplex on Big E
  • Erik scoop slams Ivar from the ring apron onto both The Undisputed Era and The New Day as they stood on the outside of the ring
  • Fish lands a kick straight onto Erik’s nose before momentarily breaking kayfabe to check if Erik was okay
  • Ivar lands a spinning heel kick onto a charging Big E
  • The New Day execute a top-rope-stomp-powerbomb combination on Ivar
  • Big E hits Erik with a through-the-middle-rope spear
  • The Viking Raiders hit a springboard German Suplex on Big E
  • Kingston misses a Trouble in Paradise, hitting the ring post hard; the Undisputed Era hit the High/Low on Kingston
  • The Viking Raiders execute the Viking Experience on Fish for the pinfall victory

Result: The Viking Raiders defeat the New Day and The Undisputed Era via pinfall

Grade: B

Analysis: The match recovered from a slow start to offer another fun, fast-paced match. Once Big E entered the fray, the speed of the match picked up exponentially. The power clashes between Big E and both members of the Viking Raiders made for captivating television.  The clashes in style between each tandem made for a unique dynamic–Fish and O’Reilly dissected the limbs of their larger opponents; Erik, Ivar and Big E dominated with power and speed; Kingston soared through the air, using his acrobatic prowess to out-maneuver his opponents.

However, the Chicago crowd seemed indifferent to the competitors. The Viking Raiders rapid ascent up the mountain was met with initial excitement, but the Allstate Arena’s near indifference to their efforts was deafening. Kingston and Big E served as the faces of the contest, but their indefinite stay atop the tag team division has neutered their entertainment value. Furthermore, in the immediate aftermath Kingston’s WWE Championship victory and subsequent squash defeat at the hands of Brock Lesnar,  placing the SmackDown Tag Team Championships on the New Day feels like a thinly veiled demotion.

The crowd investment in the Undisputed Era despite the UE operating as the contest’s heel tag team appears to be more an indictment on the audience’s interest in the Viking Raiders and The New Day than a testament to Fish and O’Reilly.  Either that or the crowd was so evenly divided between the three teams that they were unable to place their support behind any one tag team.

Women’s Traditional Five-on-Five Survivor Series Match: Team NXT (Io Shirai, Toni Storm, Rhea Ripley, Bianca Belair and Candice LaRae)  vs. Team Raw (Sarah Logan, Charlotte, Asuka, Kairi Sane and Natayla) Io vs. Team SmackDown (Carmella, Lacey Evans, Nikki Cross, Sasha Banks and Dana Brooke)

Highlights:

  • Toni Storm executes a double German Suplex
  • Carmella interrupts a staredown between Kairi Sane and Io Shirai
  • Dana Brooke lands a top rope senton on both Shirai and Sane
  • Charlotte almost breaks Sane in half with a Spear
  • LaRae and Shirai are simultaneously injured and taken to the back, leaving team NXT down to three women
  • Bianca Belair eliminates Nikki Cross with a rollup pinfall after using the ropes for leverage
  • Sarah Logan hits a double flying knee outside of the ring
  • Belair executes a Springboard Moonsault
  • Belair eliminates Logan with a 450 Splash
  • Carmella hits an Avalanche Hurricanrana onto Charlotte, who lands across Belair
  • Charlotte eliminates Carmella via pinfall after executing a Natural Selection
  • Sane lands an InSane Elbow on Toni Storm; Sasha Banks interrupts the pinfall with Meteora on Sane for the pinfall
  • Asuka eliminates Brooke via pinfall after a head kick
  • Charlotte attacks Asuka; Asuka responds by spitting the Green Mist into Charlotte’s face before abandoning Team Raw
  • Lacey Evans lands the Women’s Right on Charlotte for the pinfall
  • Natalya eliminates Evans with a rollup pinfall
  • Natalya and Banks eliminate Toni Storm with a Banks Statement/Sharpshooter combination
  • Natalya and Banks eliminate Belair with a Hart Attack
  • Banks eliminates Natalya with a straight right hand
  • Banks executes an Avalanche Meteora onto Ripley for a two-count
  • Banks counters a Reverse Cloverleaf into a Banks Statement
  • Shirai and LaRae return from the backstage area to assist Ripley in escaping the Banks Statement
  • Shirai hits a springboard dropkick onto Banks
  • Ripley hits Banks with the Riptide for the pinfall victory

Result: Team NXT defeats Team Raw and Team SmackDown

Grade: A

Analysis: The depth of WWE’s women’s division is unprecedented, as evidenced by main event level talent such as Banks, Charlotte, Asuka and Sane are currently competing in the WWE midcard.

WWE Creative afforded each woman, regardless of their positioning within the company, time to showcase their abilities. With that said, it has been a long time since WWE invested such energy into building up a female superstar in the same manner that they have developed Ripley. Once an afterthought of the Mae Young Classic, Ripley is now presented as a world beater, acting as both a champion and a leader for a brand that was decimated by brand infighting last night at NXT TakeOver: WarGames. For the first time since Asuka’s undefeated streak, WWE appears to have a star on their hands capable of competing with the Four Horsewoman and Asuka.

Belair, Natalya and Banks also deserve recognition for their strong showings. Belair dissected her opponents with power, style and speed. Banks came off as a crafty in-ring technician who could only be thwarted following an unforeseen numbers advantage. Natalya, who has settled into an upper-midcard jobber role, reminded fans of why she is considered the one of the most reliable competitors in the history of the women’s division.

My only complaint is the booking toward the conclusion of the contest. WWE should have opted to have NXT go over clean, with Ripley earning the lion’s share of the credit. Instead, they provided the NXT women with a s;ightly tarnished victory, illustrating them as a brand that needed to use sly, underhanded tactics in order to emerge victorious. Any team featuring the likes of Shirai, Ripley, Storm, LaRae and Belair shouldn’t need to resort to deception.

Triple Threat Match: United States Champion AJ Styles vs. Intercontinental Champion Shinsuke Nakamura vs. NXT North American Champion Roderick Strong

Highlights: 

  • Styles hits a sliding, running knee on Strong
  • Strong traps Nakamura in a modified Torture Rack across his back
  • Strong commences a run of offense, hitting Nakamura with a backbreaker before landing four running forearms on Styles
  • Strong monkey flips Styles into a Nakamura head kick
  • Strong disrupts a Styles Clash with a single legged dropkick to the back of Styles’ head
  • Strong executes an Angle Slam on Styles before immediately transitioning into a double underhook powerbomb
  • Styles and Nakamura execute a modified Doomsday Device on Strong
  • Sami Zayn interferes on Nakamura’s behalf, slamming Styles head into the ring post
  • Nakamura executes a GTS on Strong
  • Styles leapfrogs Strong to hit a flying forearm on Nakamura
  • Nakamura flips over Strong, whose knee lands across Styles face
  • Nakamura hits a Kinshasha on Strong for a near fall; Styles breaks up the pinfall attempt
  • Styles hits a Phenomenal Forearm on Nakamura; Strong throws Styles out of the ring to pin Nakamura

Result: Strong defeats Nakamura and Styles via pinfall

Grade: A

Analysis: This was a show-stealing performance from three of the greatest wrestlers in the world. Similar to the women’s traditional Survivor Series match, this match was an exhibition of the remarkable depth featured in WWE’s midcard division. Anywhere else in the world, Styles and Nakamura are main-event level talents. The idea of them competing in a midcard contest alongside Strong, who himself held Ring of Honor’s top title before signing with WWE, is almost laughable. Sami Zayn’s inclusion as Nakamura’s mouthpiece is just an embarrassment on riches.

Strong continues to pad his resume as one of the greatest in-ring technicians in wrestling history. Similar to Dean Malenko in size and technical ability, Strong is the modern example of in-ring excellence. If in-ring prowess was sufficient enough to elevate talent to the main event, Strong would monopolize the division.

Styles and Nakamura continue to prove their worth as midcard titleholders. Each has elevated their respective titles relative to recent titleholders, providing WWE with believable midcard champions who can offer a show-stealing performance on any given day. The three competitors offered the Chicago faithful a fast-paced, unpredictable bout that boosted the stock of each participant.

NXT Championship: Adam Cole (c) vs. Pete Dunne

Highlights:

  • Dunne stomps Cole’s bridged elbow onto the steel steps
  • Cole superkicks Dunne’s injured left knee, knocking him off the top rope
  • Dunne drops Cole onto the back of his head with a sit-out powerbomb
  • Dunne executes a moonsault onto the champion outside of the ring
  • Cole counters a moonsault by raising his knees; Cole follows up by landing a Last Shot for a two-count
  • Dunne dodges a head kick before executing the Bitter End; Cole kicks out at two
  • Cole catches Dunne with a superkick mid-backflip; Dunne kicks out at two.
  • Dunne counters the Panama Sunrise with a sit-out X-Plex; Cole kicks out at two
  • Cole executes a Panama Sunrise onto the ring apron
  • Dunne beats the ten-count by sliding into the ring at nine; Cole greets him with a superkick; Dunne kicks out at two
  • Cole counters the Bitter End into a Panama Sunrise before hitting the Last Shot to the back of Dunne’s head for the pinfall victory

Result: Cole defeats Dunne to retain the NXT Championship

Grade: A+

Analysis: Wow. I balked at the prospect of declaring this contest a potential show-stealer, but considering the talent involved, that was a gross miscalculation.

The slow, methodical built lent gravity to the weight of the matchup. This match feeling like a premier championship contest, despite lacking a proper build, illustrates the reputation that each of these competitors has built for himself.  The way Dunne and Cole focused on the intricacies and nuances of professional wrestling was refreshing, as each made a point to sell the injuries incurred during their respective clashes at NXT TakeOver: WarGames last night.

Furthermore, the chemistry between these two competitors was exceptional. Their transitions and counters were seamless; their near-falls were believable and unforced. Dunne and Cole continue to shed the perception that smaller competitors cannot flourish on the main roster, as each has proven himself seemingly incapable of having a bad showing. Dunne’s NXT resume has propelled him into the upper echelon of professional wrestling while Cole continues to drive a brand on the precipice of main roster status.

Finally, the hunger of these two competitors is a welcome addition to WWE. Main roster presentations have been neutered by apathy and complacency, as the majority of WWE’s top stars have enjoyed an indefinite stay atop the WWE mountain. Cole’s willingness to regularly sacrifice his body for the sake of our entertainment deserves rewarding. Dunne’s habit of offering show-stealing performances will eventually force WWE to crown him NXT, WWE or Universal Champion in the near future.

Universal Championship: “The Fiend” Bray Wyatt (c) vs. Daniel Bryan

Highlights:

  • Wyatt attempts to snap Bryan’s neck
  • Bryan soars over the ring post to land a diving crossbody on Wyatt
  • Wyatt no-sells Bryan’s Yes Kicks
  • Daniel Bryan hits the running knee; Wyatt kicks out at two
  • Daniel Bryan counters the Mandible Claw into an armbar
  • Wyatt executes a second Mandible Claw, this time incapacitating Bryan for the victory

Grade: B-

Result: Wyatt defeats Bryan to retain the Universal Championship

Analysis: This match wasn’t bad by any stretch of the imagination. However, inoffensive is not what Wyatt needs to kickstart his title reign, especially after working so hard to resurrect a career many left for dead.

WWE needs to abandon the stark red hue that overshadows Wyatt’s matches. Not only is it distracting, but it fails to add anything of substance to Wyatt’s in-ring efforts. Furthermore, WWE is navigating a fine line with their presentation of Wyatt. Presenting Wyatt as infallible detracts from the entertainment value of his matches.  Wyatt’s championship matches are devolving into one-sided efforts built on the shoulders of the challenger before the champion inevitably no-sells offense for the victory.

On the other hand, Bryan’s connection with the WWE Universe is the most organic and authentic since Stone Cold Steve Austin. The Chicago crowd’s Yes Chant was deafening, proving that Bryan’s heel turn hasn’t negated his reputation as one of the greatest babyfaces in WWE history. WWE would be wise to script another underdog story for Bryan, eventually rewarding him with fifth WWE Championship reign.

Men’s Survivor Series Elimination Triple Threat Match: Team Raw (Seth Rollins, Randy Orton, Kevin Owens, Ricochet & Drew McIntyre) vs. Team SmackDown (King Corbin, Roman Reigns, ​​​​Braun Strowman, Mustafa Ali & Shorty G) vs. Team NXT (Tommaso Ciampa, Keith Lee, Matt Riddle, Damian Priest & WWE United Kingdom Champion WALTER)

Highlights:

  • WALTER and McIntyre exchange resounding chops
  • McIntyre eliminates WALTER with a Claymore Kick
  • Shorty G lands a rolling German Suplex, planting Ricochet on his head
  • Riddle and Shorty G engage in a stalemate exchange
  • Ricochet hits Shorty G and Ciampa with double springboard Pele Kick
  • Owens eliminates Shorty G with a Frog Splash
  • Owens hits a prone Reigns with a cannonball on the barricade; Owens hits Corbin with a Stunner
  • Ciampa intercepts Owens, executing a Willow’s Bell DDT for the the pinfall; Owens is eliminated
  • Orton hits Ciampa and Priest with consecutive RKOs; Priest is eliminated
  • Riddle eliminates Orton with a rollup pinfall
  • Orton executes an RKO on Riddle post-elimination; Corbin pins Riddle
  • Lee and Strowman collide in midair with simultaneous crossbodies
  • McIntyre lands a Claymore Kick on Strowman outside of the ring; Strowman is eliminated via countout
  • Ricochet hits Reigns with an over-the-top-rope Corkscrew Plancha
  • Corbin hits Ricochet with an End of Days; Ricochet is eliminated
  • Rollins hoists Ali up for a springboard facebuster on Ciampa
  • Rollins executes a Curb Stomp on Ali for the pinfall; Ali is eliminated
  • Reigns hits a Spear on McIntyre for the three-count; McIntyre is eliminated
  • Reigns turns on Corbin, hitting him with a Superman Punch and a Spear; Ciampa pins Corbin
  • Lee disrupts Reigns and Rollin’s attempt at a double powerbomb
  • Ciampa counters Rollins’ attempt at a double axehandle with a big boot; Ciampa’s attempt to execute a Fairytale Ending is disrupted by Reigns; Rollins hits the Curb Stomp on Ciampa for the pinfall
  • Lee draws a pop after hitting an over-the-top-rope crossbody
  • Rollins lands a Frog Splash on Lee; Lee kicks out at two
  • Lee eliminates Rollins after hitting a Jackhammer
  • Reigns lands two consecutive Superman Punches for a controversial two-count
  • Lee lands a popup sitout powerbomb for a near fall
  • Lee misses a Lionsault; Reigns spears Lee for the pinfall and victory

Result: Team SmackDown defeats Team NXT and Team Raw

Grade: A+

Analysis: And just like that, the proverbial rocket is strapped to Lee’s back.

Once again, WWE shows off its unprecedented depth. Having the luxury of featuring Strowman, McIntyre, Ricochet, Ciampa, Reigns, Lee, Rollins and WALTER in an inconsequential midcard match is actually comical. The idea of premier talent like Riddle and Orton almost serving as afterthoughts is an attestation to the depth of both the WWE and NXT rosteres.

Ciampa’s continues his torrid ascent to the top of the WWE mountain. As arguably the hottest superstar in the world, Ciampa has earned his recognition as arguably the greatest wrestler in the world, a theme which has manifested itself throughout the duration of the show. Him standing toe-to-toe with the biggest stars of the current generation and presenting himself as their equal is an exhilarating development for someone who was once dismissed as a tag team enhancement talent.

Despite early eliminations, Owens and McIntyre displayed why they are two of WWE’s most reliable competitors. Eventually, WWE needs to pull the trigger on McIntyre, whose energy, physique and in-ring prowess is intoxicating.

Corbin is slowly proving his worth as an old school heel. Originally burdened by X-Pac heat (or unwanted derision from the crowd), Corbin’s incessant mocking and insufferable character presentation allows faces to get over in a generation fatigued WWE’s interpretation of good.

However, my one reservation is the treatment of the NXT United Kingdom Champion, WALTER. Having McIntyre dispose of WALTER so easily reinforces fan perception that the NXT UK brand is by far the weakest under the WWE banner. It also insinuates that WWE midcarders are superior to the best NXT UK has to offer, a brand in sore need of credibility.

Nevertheless, the men’s five-on-five match was another exceptionally strong showing on what has thus far been WWE’s strongest pay-per-view of the year.

WWE Championship: Brock Lesnar (c) vs. Rey Mysterio in a No Holds Barred Match

Highlights:

  • Mysterio enters in a Joker mask
  • Lesnar executes an overhead belly-to-belly suplex on the wooden announce table cover
  • Lesnar hits Mysterio with German Suplex onto a steel pipe
  • Mysterio and Dominick hit consecutive low blows on Lesnar
  • Dominick and Mysterio hit stereo 619s before hitting consecutive Frog Splashes on Lesnar; Lesnar kicks out at two
  • Lesnar hits Dominick with a German Suplex
  • Lesnar catches Mysterio out of midair before executed an F5 for the pinfall

Result: Lesnar defeats Mysterio to retain the WWE Championship

Grade: C+

Analysis: Rinse. Wash. Repeat.

Like nearly every other Lesnar match, this was more of a showcase of Lesnar’s dominance than an actual contest. Since ending the Undertaker’s undefeated streak at Wrestlemania, Lesnar’s aura has been nearly impenetrable. WWE has essentially booked themselves into a corner, presenting their entire roster as a cast of amateurs jockeying for the opportunity to compete against the UFC’s legitimate fighters.

For a while, Lesnar’s superiority was a fun wrinkle in WWE’s landscape. Four years later, it’s redundant and predictable. Sure, WWE has transitioned from pure squash matches to quasi-competitive contests, but Lesnar’s matches have still fallen into a pattern defined by desperate sprints of offense from the challenger before Lesnar inevitably squashes their title hopes.

Despite Lesnar’s repetitive booking, this was a fine usage of Mysterio, who has had trouble reestablishing the connection he once had with the WWE Universe. Mysterio has always been a perennial underdog. However, despite his size, he has routinely proven capable of keeping pace with bigger, stronger competitors. Adding Dominick to the equation provided a cheap, welcome emotional aspect to the contest.

Triple Threat Match: Raw Women’s Champion Becky Lynch vs. SmackDown Women’s Champion Bayley vs. NXT Women’s Champion Shayna Baszler

Highlights: 

  • Bayley botches an attempt to land a Sunset Bomb on Lynch into the turnbuckle
  • Lynch executes a DDT-Reverse DDT combo on Bayley and Baszler
  • Lynch counters Bayley’s pinfall attempt into a Dis-Arm-Her; Baszler breaks up the submission with a knee to the jaw
  • Bayley hits a Bayley-to-Belly on Baszler; Baszler kicks out at two
  • Baszler intercepts Bayley’s attempt at a punt by trapping her in the Kirifuda Clutch
  • Baszler counters a Bayley elbow drop into a Kirifuda Clutch for the submission victory; NXT wins Survivor Series
  • Lynch attacks Baszler after the bell, driving Baszler through the announce table with a leg drop

Result: Baszler defeats Bayley and Lynch via submission

Grade: D-

Analysis: The Chicago crowd was unreceptive to the efforts of the three women’s titleholders. On one hand, you have to criticize Chicago’s complete indifference from the contest’s embryonic stages onward, especially when they resorted to showering the competitors with the tired “CM Punk” chants. On the other hand, the competitors should have anticipated such a reaction when crafting a slow burn main-event, especially in the immediate aftermath of so many fast-paced contests. Awkward intermissions punctuated the action, almost forcing fans to turn their collective backs on the contest.

While the character development of Baszler has been nothing short of exceptional, Baszler has yet to offer a career-defining performance in the ring, despite facing some of the best wrestlers in the world.

Unfortunately, the same can be said for Bayley. In her first main event opportunity since her Iron Woman’s match at NXT TakeOver: Respect in 2015, Bayley grossly underperformed. Bayley has been criticized for her relatively pedestrian moveset, a problem that has routinely handicapped her performances. Considering that Bayley’s inclusion in this contest was greeted with tentative optimism, it appears that Bayley running out of chances to redeem herself. It seems more and more likely that Bayley will be forever be considered the weak link of WWE’s Four Horsewomen.

The women have undeniably improved their product leaps and bounds since the inception of the Women’s Revolution. However, for one reason or another, they have underperformed when awarded the main event slot. The women desperately need a show-stealing performance to reinvigorate fan investment in the women’s brand. Strong character work absent on sh0w-stealing matches will be insufficient in retaining fan support.

 

If you enjoyed this article, see how we fared with our Survivor Series predictions here.

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