You read that right, folks. I’ve been reviewing WWE pay-per-views here on ProWrestling.com for nearly a year now. I’m very thankful to Mike Killam for giving me the opportunity to do so as I’ve enjoyed giving my takes on matches on here since Clash of Champions 2017.
Hopefully, you all have gotten a kick out of my writing or a take I’ve had in the last year as well. The reason why I bring this up is in that time, I’ve never given a five-star review of a match on this site. Sure, I’ve given out a good few four and four-and-a-half star ratings, but never a perfect five. That changed tonight, and I invite you to read my reasoning to see if you agree or disagree.
Anyway, let’s get the essentials out of the way: WWE Survivor Series took place Sunday night at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, California. WWE’s annual brand-versus-brand competition was highlighted by RAW vs. SmackDown Survivor Series-style battles between the men, the women and the tag-teams of each brand. Additionally, we had dream match-up scenarios between Seth Rollins and Shinsuke Nakamura, Brock Lesnar and Daniel Bryan and the aforementioned match-up of Rousey and Flair.
Team RAW (Mickie James, Nia Jax, Tamina, Bayley and Sasha Banks) vs. Team SmackDown (Carmella, Naomi, Sonya Deville, Asuka and Mandy Rose)
Oh my lord, does the WWE Universe hate Nia Jax right now. I mean, knocking arguably the most popular superstar in WWE right now out of a dream match (and arguably the most important match of Lynch’s career) will do that, but it was simply amazing to hear the chorus of boos anytime Jax had any sort of spotlight on her. It was like Oklahoma City Thunder fans booing Kevin Durant in his return to the OKC in 2017 after signing with the Golden State Warriors. If WWE is smart, they’ll make the most of this heat in the coming weeks.
Other than that, I don’t really have a whole lot to say about this match. I enjoyed the extended match-up between Sasha Banks and Asuka and little bits like Carmella’s dance break and the continued tension between Mandy Rose and Sonya Deville, but this was a very paint-by-numbers Survivor Series-style match. Not great, but not terrible either.
Winner: Team RAW Time: 18:50 Rating: 2.5 Stars
Seth Rollins vs. Shinsuke Nakamura
This was the match I was looking forward to the most on this night. The first time match-up between two of the best workers in the company in a battle for brand supremacy. I was thinking fast strikes, multi-spot sequences and a show-stealing performance all together. And thankfully, these two proved me almost completely right.
The match started out with the two feeling each other out, trying to get the upper hand early. There was lots of taunting and mind games trying to lure the other into a defenseless position. Multiple near-falls that kept adding to the drama of the match one after the other and all the greatest hits checked off from each man’s playbook (Bad Vibrations from Nakamura, Falcon Arrow by Rollins, etc.). A match that built and built and built until it’s eventual end and got better and better as it went along. No disappointments here. A solid first meeting between these two.
Winner: Seth Rollins Time: 21:50 Rating: 3.5 Stars
AOP vs. The Bar
This match was four absolute bruisers running head-first at each other. While Cesaro is one of the best in-ring technicians WWE has on the roster and Sheamus has been known to break out a grapple or two in his time, they both showed they could match the two behemoths in AOP punch-for-punch. Of course, this match won’t be remembered for the in-ring action and mostly remembered for the emergence and attempted show-takeover by Eric Arndt (AKA Enzo Amore) in the middle of second row ringside facing the hard camera.
I thought this was an okay match, all things considered. Using Drake Maverick as a urinating distraction was very eye-rolling and sophomoric, although keeping an eye on the seven-foot giant in the Big Show to make sure he didn’t squish Maverick like a bug is a natural storytelling device. But, for storyline in-match psychology, it made sense for AOP to immediately take control and pick up the win. I’ve seen better from all six men involved in the match, to be honest.
Winner: AOP Time: 9:00 Rating: 2 Stars
Buddy Murphy vs. Mustafa Ali
These two men have had lowkey stellar 2018’s to help boost their stock on the main roster. Ali showcased his high-flying and knowledgeable in-ring work to shine on 205 Live this year and develop a solid reputation among fans and Murphy reinvented himself from a fledgling tag team performer in NXT to a brutal heel who won the Cruiserweight Championship from Cedric Alexander in October. Murphy is a dangerous combination in the cruiserweight division as he’s a believable strongman who could pull off some bodyweight slams while also being nimble enough to fly in the air should the situation call for it, too.
Ali soared through the air on a senton on Murphy on the outside, and Murphy pushed Ali off the top rope at one point making it look like he would go flying into the first row of fans. Murphy flew over the top-rope for a splash on Ali near the ramp to keep the energy of this match high. Ultimately, the match ended on a Murphy kick to Ali’s head before delivering Murphy’s Law for the victory. These two have great chemistry and produced a bunch of great spots and moves to create a very entertaining match. Bravo.
Winner: Buddy Murphy Time: 12:20 Rating: 4 Stars
Team RAW (Braun Strowman, Dolph Ziggler, Drew McIntyre, Finn Bālor and Bobby Lashley) vs. Team SmackDown (The Miz, Shane McMahon, Samoa Joe, Jeff Hardy and Rey Mysterio)
WWE usually presents this match every year with a bit of brand animosity and warfare in the weeks leading up, but this match was highlighted more so by in-fighting between members of the same team. Strowman and McIntyre were jawing at each other on who would start off for RAW and even McIntyre and Bālor struck each other a couple of times. RAW felt like a storyline connected band of misfits, where SmackDown felt like four guys just randomly thrown together with Shane McMahon.
Speaking of Shane, he looked really exhausted near the end of this match, albeit he ran around more here than he arguably has in months. Admittedly, he still was able to knock-off his trademark top-rope elbow spot to Braun on the announcer’s table and a Coast to Coast on Dolph Ziggler much to the delight of the crowd. I’m liking this storyline they’re trying to build where Shane can say he’s pinned top talent and is technically “the best wrestler in the world,” because to me this has to be a seed for a future storyline.
Braun Strowman looked as much like an animal as ever pinning four members of team SmackDown after being knocked out for a few minutes. I also liked how they were able to keep a little bit of heat on Corbin by attacking Strowman after the match to continue their feud into the latter days of November. In Reigns’ absence, Strowman looks like the top babyface RAW will be backing going forward.
Winner: Team RAW Time: 24:00 Rating: 3 Stars
Ronda Rousey vs. Charlotte Flair
Bear with me here, folks. I have a lot to say about this match.
Going back to the spring, this match was rumored to be a potential main event match-up for WrestleMania 35 in New Jersey. And for good reason! Charlotte Flair has been pushed as the crown jewel of the women’s division since her debut three years ago, and Ronda Rousey has arguably the most mainstream star-power of any wrestler on the full-time roster right now. It’s a shame we couldn’t get the Becky-Ronda match-up that was advertised, but I was not disappointed that this was our consolation.
For the first few minutes, these two ripped and clawed at each other like two lions on the savannah. Charlotte would try to ground Ronda to get a Figure-Eight locked in and Ronda would do the same to get an armbar locked in. Charlotte’s inadvertent elbow to Ronda’s jaw giving her a bloody mouth really added to the image the two were trying to paint in trying to just absolutely manhandle the other. This match was easily the most violent and brutal of Rousey’s young WWE career, which I think really shined a light on a side WWE has alluded to, but never put on full display until now. Rousey was at one point one of the biggest pay-per-view draws in UFC. She absolutely brutalized and tapped out a number of fighters during her heyday and was branded as one of the certified “baddest women on the planet” for good reason. This match was as close as we will see to 2015 UFC Ronda Rousey in a WWE ring, although I hope we see that viciousness again in the future. Shout-out to both of these women for putting on one of the best matches in Charlotte’s career and definitely the best in Ronda’s career.
And then the ending. My God. Obviously, you don’t want Ronda to appear weak in the middle of her monster push. But at the same time, Charlotte has been your golden goose for the last three years. You don’t want to have her lose too much heat with her second big-time loss in a month either. But the way WWE booked this finish, with Charlotte losing her mind, temper and cool not wanting to appear weak to Ronda was brilliant. You could argue that this was written for Becky originally, but I thought this ending with Charlotte protecting her throne thinking Ronda was getting a little too close for comfort was absolute magic. And to have Ronda walk out, battered and beaten with visible scars all over her body on her own power cements her as a “Stone Cold” babyface any fan should at minimum respect, and at most adore alongside Becky Lynch. Granted, many in the Staples Center won’t agree with this take and in many minds, Ronda is still a few years of work away as an outsider to even come close to earning the respect of a “wrestling lifer” like Becky. But I digress. I can’t put this over enough. The match, the motivations, the turn. Everything. This was the moment of the weekend for me, NXT included.
Winner (via DQ): Ronda Rousey Time: 14:40 Rating: 5 Stars
Brock Lesnar vs. Daniel Bryan
This is such a weird match-up. You have one guy…scratch that…behemoth in one corner who weighs nearly 300 pounds and is a certified badass in collegiate-style wrestling, UFC and was able to walk-on a NFL team roster for a brief time. The other guy is a little over 200 pounds and has a history of neck and concussion issues. In 2014, before all of Bryan’s serious injuries came to a head, this was a dream David v. Goliath match-up between two great pure wrestlers. Now in 2018, this feels like an accident waiting to happen. Add in the fact that AJ Styles had been advertised in this spot up until Tuesday, technically making this a heel-versus-heel match-up here, and you have a head-scratcher of a main event.
Before he even entered the ring, Brock was circling Bryan like a raptor circling a field mouse with an aura of imposing death. Bryan told an interesting story in the beginning of this match by drawing Brock out in frustration rather than attacking him head-on like Roman Reigns or Braun Strowman. Bryan was essentially a human-version of a bull fighter’s red cape, waving himself in front of a bull named Brock. But once Bryan got caught, Brock made him pay. Elbows to the head, German suplexes as well as belly-to-belly suplexes made Brock look like the deadliest man on planet Earth. Remember SummerSlam 2014 when Brock absolutely destroyed John Cena in a way no one ever had during Cena’s time on top? Bryan was the one meant to be in that spot. This was the match that was supposed to happen a little over four years ago.
I will say, kicking a behemoth like Lesnar in the testicles as hard as humanely possible and then driving your shin into his temple as fast as you can is the most logical strategy to try and snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. After the nut-shot, Bryan was at least able to build up some semblance of an offense to counter Brock’s domination in the first part of the match. Bryan would then focus all of his offense on targeting Brock’s head and knees and by repeating moves that knocked the big man off his feet over and over and over again.
In the end, the big man won, but not without making the little man look great in the process. I’d like to think there was some form of “warrior’s respect” between Brock and Bryan with two guys who get a kick out of beating the absolute daylights out of each other. But, that just might be me romanticizing. This was a thousand times better than I expected it to be, and if it weren’t for the women’s match just prior, this would have been match of the night. Brock’s best match since last year’s Survivor Series against AJ and Bryan’s best match since returning at WrestleMania this year.
Winner: Brock Lesnar Time: 18:50 Rating: 4 Stars
Overall Thoughts: Honestly, this whole card turned out a lot better than I expected it to be, especially with the final two matches. If you watch NXT, there’s always this perception of after the night of great wrestling on Saturday, there’s the thought that WWE can’t possibly top it on Sunday with their main roster, writing style and time pacing. But I will say this: They tried their damn-dest to do so here in Los Angeles.
I can try and understand fans criticizing SmackDown taking a clean sweep of the matches (spare the men’s tag match on the pre-show), but that didn’t really bother me per se. Considering Stephanie McMahon made a point on Monday to want to crush SmackDown and dominated them tonight, that kind of fell in line with the storyline, albeit at SmackDown’s expense. But like I said, that didn’t really bother me in the grand scheme of things. Match of the night honors go to Charlotte Flair and Ronda Rousey, with special nods to Buddy Murphy-Mustafa Ali and Daniel Bryan-Brock Lesnar. Overall, a very enjoyable night.
Final Survivor Series Rating: 3.5 Stars