Much like the Undertaker’s career, it’s far beyond time for the present Survivor Series format to be sent out to pasture.
There’s no value in pulling punches on the show at this point, as the event that just 3 years ago freshened up the booking with its champion vs. champion, non-title format, has become utterly stale. It’s like when you leave a loaf of bread untied and opened for a week and when you come back to it you can concuss a person just by lobbing it at their heads.
Last week this column argued that with three of the last four years following the same format as the 2020 incarnation, it was time to rejig the event once again. This past weekend’s Survivor Series confirmed the necessity for some measured reworking of it amid the dearth of a meaningful point to this particular show. Even if you’re a die hard WWE fan it’s hard to justify the status quo when you can’t even point to them bothering to keep score as they waged war against each other in this contest of red vs. blue supremacy.
No score, no stakes, no point.
This isn’t to say some of the matches weren’t good, because they were. The women’s elimination outshined the men’s match in several respects, not the least of which its build, stories, ringwork and building out beyond the show. The composition at least made sense and pushed its stories forward, whatever the endgame happens to be with Lana. Sasha and Asuka added another great match to their catalogue. Drew and Roman fought a hard-nosed fight while the Street Profits and New Day worked a great tag team match.
In contrast, the Lashley-Zayn match was pointless. Whereas Drew and Roman made their non-title match worthwhile, Zayn and Lashley lacked the fire of that match; with nothing to compete over, it fizzled. Additionally the battle royal served no purpose and built nothing of consequence, and the men’s elimination match was a by-the-numbers affair with OK ringwork and a story we’ve seen play out millions of times. Tell me if you’ve heard this one: Band of randoms don’t get along but come together to accomplish an out-of-reach goal. Does that sound familiar?
The problem in both groups of matches is ultimately the same though — poor story construction and execution of the creative half of what makes professional wrestling entertaining. Each week, no matter which program or promotion we watch we’re investing our downtime after long days of work, obligation and expectation to be entertained for a short while as the world fluctuates between madness and less madness. When it comes to wrestling, the business excels when physical competition and storytelling come together to create a perfect bond that brings us together as fans — on websites, on social media and shockingly in real life at the oddest times when you least expect it. That blend is when pro wrestling can become special.
The issue Survivor Series has faced the majority of these last few years is that the event as a whole lacks purpose and direction beyond cobbling together feuds, their reasoning and building mere weeks ahead of the show they’re meant to appear on. It also raises questions, such as why should Lashley and Zayn have a match just because they happen to be champions? Why not instead add another elimination match, or bring the rest of the Hurt Business into the match and give Zayn three other partners and compete against one another if you want to involve the respective brand’s secondary champions. Or what if we scrap Sami altogether and inject Retribution into the mix?
Then maybe add another eliminator match or two to the preshow featuring other ongoing feuds, then pool the winners of all the matches into a sole survivor battle Royal with legitimate stakes, be they a title match for their brand at the Rumble or entrance into the Rumble at the #30 spot. This, or something along these lines, would at least inject some purpose into the show.
Of the original 4 WWE PPVs, this has fallen the farthest. The Rumble has had title implications as far back as 1992 when Ric Flair won. That bled into WrestleMania, the company’s biggest show of the year. Several months later Summerslam takes centre stage as the summer equivalent to WrestleMania. Then there’s Survivor Series, which over the last few years has meant less and less aside from the illusion of brand dominance, which again, was not a focus this year. So why bother at all if you’re not going to try and hook the audience in with something?
Harking back to the sole survivor battle royal concept, even if you do exactly what WWE booked with Lana (which should have been her getting a pin on someone), you can put her in that environment and pick up the battle royal just to make the last several weeks mean something. It would have made that corner of the pay per view mean something, just as it would if you filtered every winner up and down the card and placed them in a battle royal for men and women and made the stakes connect to the Royal Rumble. Instead we get “stuff and reasons” booking that no one cares for or is talking about positively the next day.
As a further example, say you want to make Reigns look even stronger, then you can have him enter, as he beat Drew, and dominate the field. Maybe he gets haphazardly eliminated on a fluke and suddenly you have another angle setup. There are angles to play and adjustments to make to renew wrestling’s fall classic. However, as it is it’s missing its mark more than it should given its history.
Rest In Peace
This year’s event concluded with a subdued, manufactured farewell to the Undertaker.
He deserves better than plugged in chants and an empty arena, considering that before WrestleMania became his calling card many of his early big moments in WWF/WWE came at the Survivor Series: his debut, countless casket matches and his first title win over Hulk Hogan.
There’s no doubt we’ll see him again in some capacity, but aside from his inevitable induction into the WWE’s Hall of Fame he deserves a proper goodbye and curtain call with fans present when it’s possible to do so. Whether you’re a fan or not, it’s unarguable Sunday night’s farewell was underwhelming despite the attempt at pomp and circumstance at every turn. For a man who’s given so much to professional wrestling he deserves an equal outpouring of adoration for 30 years in WWE alone and a career spanning 33 callously mean, soul-reaping years.
Did he hold on too long? Certainly. Does that erase the years where he performed at an elite level, especially as a big man? No.
Mark Calaway gave fans so much for so many years, even when his body started to fight against him. He’s still young, and while Undertaker should remain dead and buried, should he choose to Callaway has plenty to offer the next generation as “just Mark.”