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For years and years every WWE show, whether it was a random episode of SmackDown to WrestleMania, there have been reports have Vince McMahon constantly changing his mind about what is going to happen on the show; with very few things ever firmly locked in place until the last moment. Survivor Series, the second longest-running PPV WWE produces every year is maybe the greatest example of McMahon's flip-flopping philosophy on booking decisions.
Since the event was first announced as a battle between SmackDown and RAW, nearly every perceived match as been altered. The WWE Championship was swapped to AJ Styles, so that he and not Jinder Mahal would face Universal Champion Brock Lesnar. The SmackDown Women's Championship was flipped earlier this week over to Charlotte, so she will face RAW champion Alexa Bliss instead of Natalya. Also this week, Triple H inserted himself into the main event instead of Jason Jordan. Earlier this month, Sheamus and Cesaro regained the RAW Tag Team Championships from Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins, so they will face the SmackDown champions, The Usos. It is hard to believe that all of these changes were planned out well in advance, and it just goes to show that consistency really isn't WWE's strong suit right now.
Due to the constant shuffling, a lot of the matches feel flat. Alexa Bliss wasn't really able to do a program with Charlotte, because Charlotte just won the title on Tuesday. The same could be said for The Usos and Sheamus and Cesaro, or even Brock Lesnar and AJ Styles, who each did a solitary segment on their respective shows and that has been it so far. Due to the uncertainty of Roman Reigns' health, The New Day and The Shield have had little opportunity to build their program as well. It hasn't helped that the few matches that have been built for several weeks are either boring (The Miz vs Baron Corbin) or uninspired (the generic tag team match of RAW women vs SmackDown women).
Yet despite all of that, Survivor Series has managed to be a pretty intriguing show. The top two matches; Lesnar vs Styles and the RAW men vs the SmackDown men, have a lot of interest and should end up being really good matches. The Shield vs The New Day will likely end up being very good, as will The Usos vs Sheamus and Cesaro, and Charlotte vs Alexa Bliss is a different look for the women. Outside of match quality, there are numerous angles that could potentially be explored, particularly in the men's elimination match. The booking and plans for Survivor Series have been all over the place, but perhaps because of that chaos, there is a level of uncertainty from fans about what is going to take place on Sunday, which has generated interest.
The men's elimination match has a lot of moving parts. On the RAW side, the main storyline has been that Stephanie McMahon is unhappy with Kurt Angle's performance and he needs to win this match at Survivor Series he will be fired. At first glance, it would seem unlikely that the RAW team would lose since Angle clearly has unfinished business on RAW. However, I could see the RAW team losing, Angle getting fired, only to reappear some time later to set up his speculated match with Triple H, who not-so-coincidentally returned to RAW and put himself on the RAW team. The other factor is Jason Jordan, Angle's storyline son who never got over because the idea that he was Angle's son was so preposterous. Angle wanted to take Jordan off the RAW team after he was injured, but Triple H buried Jordan and took him off the team before Angle had the chance. Logically, that sets up Jordan's potential heel turn, where he turns on his father for not believing in him and costs him his job by screwing the RAW team.
On the SmackDown side, the main focus will be on Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn, whose run so far as a duo hasn't met their own expectations of dominating the roster. Zayn and Owens both failed to make the SmackDown team, and since they already have a vendetta against Shane McMahon, naturally they will likely be involved in the match trying to screw SmackDown and embarrass Shane. A possible way WWE could do the elimination match is to have Jordan get Angle eliminated, and have Owens and Zayn get Shane eliminated, which would negate both of their impacts on their respective teams, but also still set up the storylines between the warring parties.
On top of those angles; the nature of an elimination match is that most of the men competing in the match will have to be eliminated. Between the two teams, Triple H, Angle, Braun Strowman and John Cena will all likely be protected, which makes their eliminations tricky to book. Angle's looks like it will involve Jordan in some capacity, but what about Triple H, or Cena? In a perfect world, a guy like Finn Balor could pin Cena, or Bobby Roode could pin Triple H, and get a big boost from that. WWE historically does not have a great record of giving those type of guys the needed rub, but the potential is there. I have to say, by luck or design, WWE has done a very good job creating a match that is likely to have a very large effect on the product heading into the Royal Rumble and WrestleMania season. There may have been constant changes during the build, but the end result is a match that feels like something that is must-see.
Easily the second-biggest match on the card is the meeting of the two world champions; Lesnar and Styles. After filling in for a sick Bray Wyatt at TLC and potentially saving Balor's WWE career, Styles once again is called into action to rescue a dismal match, this time replacing Jinder Mahal. While Styles vs Lesnar is in a lot of ways a dream match; I'm hesitant to get that excited about it. Lesnar's recent outings against Samoa Joe and Braun Strowman were well-hyped but underachieved, mainly due to Lesnar or WWE's insistence that the match be kept short and just feature a bunch of big moves followed by an easy Lesnar victory in under 12 minutes. Obviously these two are skilled enough to have a great match, but what in Lesnar's track record suggests that is going to happen on Sunday? There is almost no chance Styles wins the match; I think in order to preserve some esteem Styles should win via disqualification or a double-count-out or something of that nature, even if that would be kind of a lame finish. I won't rule out an easy Lesnar victory though.
The matchup of the two women's champions is less interesting. Charlotte winning the title on Tuesday in Charlotte and having Ric Flair come out and greet her is a far better moment than anything this match can have. Bliss shines in her promos and her character development in feuds, which she hasn't gotten the chance to do so in regards to Charlotte. I don't think she is the kind of person that you can just put in a random match and expect great things. Either of them could win, but considering the momentum she gained on Tuesday, Charlotte should probably get her hand raised.
The women's elimination match is significantly less exciting than the men's. Beyond the lack of a serious storyline heading into it, the problem with these elimination matches is that they really need about 20 minutes at the minimum; otherwise they end up just being a string of quick pins to help sift through nine eliminations. While I have no doubt the men's match will be given enough time, the same can't be said for the women's match and as has been the case in recent years, it will probably be very forgettable. The one notable thing should be Asuka decimating the SmackDown women and putting everyone on notice. She should get all the eliminations and get put over super strong here.
The reunion of The Shield will belatedly make their return to PPV against The New Day. The New Day from a SmackDown perspective have been the main instigators in the feud between the brands, and have done well in their role. Obviously, The Shield are viewed as at a different level and will pick up the victory. A good thing about The New Day is that even though they are normally booked strong, they don't necessarily have to be dominant to be a major act thanks to their charisma and comedic timing.
The rest of the card is filled out by more cross-promotion matches. The Usos and Sheamus and Cesaro have had pretty much zero build, although their match should be good and will likely open the show. Out of all the matches on the show, no feud has been brewing longer than The Miz and Baron Corbin, but I just can't see a way that match ends up being very good. The Miz is at his best when he is working with an under-appreciated fan favorite, like Daniel Bryan or Dolph Ziggler. Corbin is the opposite of that in he is someone the hardcore fans who would really dislike The Miz also dislike and believe he hasn't shown the talent or ability to justify his push. It just isn't a good clash of styles or character.
A few weeks ago I wrote about how Survivor Series cannot rely on the theme being SmackDown vs RAW in a battle for brand supremacy, since fans don't have tremendous loyalty to either brand. Even though that is still the theme that has been pushed, I think this year Survivor Series is much more interesting because fans don't really care WHO wins but rather HOW. If Jordan screws Angle and costs RAW the battle, that is more interesting than SmackDown winning a match. The same can be said for Sami Zayn and Keving Owens screwing Shane. If Daniel Bryan turns heel and screws Shane (don't rule it out) then that is much more interesting than RAW winning a match. For me, I don't really care who wins and who loses all that much, what is more interesting is how they win or lose, and what that means for the future creative direction of the program. Survivor Series, at the very least, should indicate how WWE plans to book both RAW and SmackDown over the next several months; which makes it much more interesting than a simple battle between two separate "brands" of the same company.
Must Watch Matches
Matt Riddle and Jeff Cobb vs Donovan Dijak and Keith Lee: **** - PWG Battle of Los Angeles Night 1
Ricochet vs Flamita: **** - PWG Battle of Los Angeles Night 1
Kenny Omega and The Young Bucks vs Flamita, Fenix and Pentagon El Zero M: ****1/4 - PWG Battle of Los Angeles Night 2
Donovan Dijak vs Keith Lee: ****1/4 - PWG Battle of Los Angeles Night 3