All eyes were on the WWE Network Sunday night for Survivor Series 2014 and it’s not just because it’s one of the Big Four original WWE pay-per-views. This month saw a huge push for the network itself. This is the first PPV since they dropped the sixth month commitment needed to sign up. As much as they like remind us of that $9.99 price point, paying sixty dollars for six months never really felt like $9.99. On top of that, they really pushed the free trial, letting everyone know that they could see Survivor Series for #FreeFreeFree. So WWE had to not only see this as a chance to create new subscribers, but a chance to create new viewers in general. Not everybody has cable to watch the weekly programming, but pretty much everybody has the Internet.
With so much hanging on this PPV business wise, I was a little confused looking at the card going into the event. It boasted, to my eye, one and a half potentially interesting matches. That’s not a great ratio. The one was Bray Wyatt vs Dean Ambrose and the half was the main Survivor Series match, which featured a mix of great and not so great wrestlers. Sure, there were some solid teams in the fatal four way tag match, but four way tag matches are never good. All these concerns aside, I didn’t even make it through the pre-show Kickoff before realizing that the company had indeed brought their A-game.
For a long time, the Kickoff (and it’s predecessor, the simply titled “pre-show”) was nothing more than an ad for the upcoming PPV masquerading as free programming. Recently it started featuring Paul Heyman in the panel discussion, which was a little frustrating because it made it harder to skip, even though the non-Heyman parts were still completely skippable. That was not the case this month. The panel was hosted by Renee Young, who’s had that duty for a few months now. She’s an interesting character in WWE. She does commentary for NXT and she’s got a lot of raw talent and good instincts. However, she has this unfortunate habit of backing off anytime she starts to get too heated. It’s a real shame; she has the potential to be one of the better commentators in the company, if she was just allow herself to get carried away. So it’s nice to see her with someone like Paul Heyman, who can put over literally anybody. I’m not exaggerating. At Comic-Con this year, I saw him put over a shaky nerd who stopped the Q&A to try to take a picture with Hulk Hogan. There is no one that Paul Heyman can’t make look good and when you get him together with somebody who actually has some talent, the results can be pretty great.
To my surprise, the matches the panel framed were pretty great too. It started with the debut of the “new” Fandango. What’s new about him is that he’s wearing darker clothes. That’s not what’s important. What’s important is his new dance partner, Rosa Mendes. She has something that none of his previous partners did: a willingness to totally abandon subtlety. Fandango is such a broad character. He wears his shirt unbuttoned to the naval and he makes sure to insert the word “dong” into his name. Summer Rae and Layla just smiled and danced. It was unbalanced. Rosa Mendes plays it sultry almost to the point of parody and looks openly aroused when she watches her partner. It’s a great fit and Fandango was in fine form in his match with Justin Gabriel.
The Kickoff followed this with a fantastic promo by the Miz and Damien Sandow and match between Cesaro and Jack Swagger. Cesaro’s strength never fails to impress. There was a spot Swagger completed a full flip after being thrown over Cesaro’s back. The only complaint that could really be said about this one was that it should have been on the card proper.
The Kickoff ends after two solid matches, some great promos, and still way too many ads. The PPV itself starts with a bang. Remember earlier when I said that four way tag matches are never good? Well, that’s why I’m just some fool on the Internet. The Usos, Los Matadores, Gold & Stardust, and Miz & Mizdow all square off for the tag titles. There’s one thing that they get right in this match and, for the most part, that they get right in the rest of the show that really made things work: momentum. In matches like this, there is a very fine line you have to walk in order to let each team establish a rhythm and still keep the pace fast and fun. The four teams at Survivor Series walk that line expertly and come to a very effective finish. Last month I complained that WWE was dilly dallying in pushing Damien Sandow. This month was a big step in the right direction. Here, we get just enough Sandow to keep us wanting more. A little more wouldn’t have hurt, necessarily, but there’s no need to risk it.
Another person that impressed me in this match was Stardust. He really excels in front of a crowd that’s cheering for somebody else. It’s kind of a shame that there’s not as big a place for that type of heel work that there used to be.
The fatal four way was followed by the worst match of the night, the Divas’ Survivor Series match, but for the worst match of the night, this was pretty painless. It was thrown together with no real story or reason to care, but it got in and out in a tight fifteen minutes. There’s something worth appreciating in that. This is textbook matchmaking. Start the show strong, then cool off and build the excitement back up.
After that we have Bray Wyatt vs Dean Ambrose. This was the match I was most looking forward to when I saw the card. You’ll recall that at Hell in a Cell, Wyatt used his hillbilly cult powers to summon a ghost and distract Ambrose. I wished they had followed through more with the supernatural aspect, but that’s no longer the era we live in. The match here was solid, if perfunctory. It’s not their best work for either of them, but it does its job. There is an interesting bit of character work at the end, however. Wyatt demands Ambrose hit him with a chair, recalling a similar interaction Wyatt had had with John Cena. Wyatt’s only intention is to corrupt his opponent’s soul, no matter the physical cost. Cena wins by not hitting him with the chair, but Ambrose wins by saying, “Nuts to my soul, I’m going to beat the crap out of you.” Much like a red vine, it’s a satisfying little twist.
Following that we get two quick bits of filler. Adam Rose and the Bunny take on Slater Gator. Heath Slater and Titus O’Neal are pretty great together, but I’d have rather seen them do a promo than wrestle a guy who probably can’t see what he’s doing most of the time. Next Nikki Bella defeats AJ in 35 seconds in an homage to Daniel Bryan’s loss at Wrestlemania XXVIII. AJ’s terrific, but sacrificing this match was probably a smart move to keep things moving fast.
Now we’re onto the main event. Team Cena vs. Team Authority. Pacing in an elimination tag match is critical and it’s really on point here. As soon as it starts, Mark Henry is eliminated. This is a great way to start. It hits the ground running and gets rid of Sexual Chocolate, who’s great on the mic, but has never really been able to hold his own in the ring.
The match plugs along until the inevitable Big Show betrayal and that’s where the fun really starts.
All that’s left of Team Cena is Dolph Ziggler. Team Authority still has Kane, Luke Harper, and Seth Rollins. As a longtime Ziggler fan, I was already seeing visions of how they’d bury him this time. Maybe he heroically gets one or two eliminations before being pinned. But it doesn’t end that way. Ziggler pins all them. And when HHH pulls off the referee and sends in the security guards, he fights them off. He maintains energy and stays entertaining till the very end. Every two count feels exciting. Thirty minutes in and Rollins and Ziggler put on an entire amazing match in itself.
In the end, Ziggler is the sole survivor. Team Cena wins and the Authority is banished from power. It’s been a while since we’ve seen the good guys win like this in WWE and it sets us up for some interesting storylines. For the first time in a long time, there’s a clear ending of one arc and a beginning of a new one. It’s an exciting place to be and nothing else noteworthy or history making happened that night. Nothing at all.