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Posted in: Just Business
Just Business: Survivor Series 2017 - The Performance Art Review
By Samuel 'Plan
Nov 22, 2017 - 9:07:13 PM

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Just Business: Survivor Series 2017 - The Performance Art Review


After another bladder-stretching four hour monolith of an event from WWE, we have the final Big Four event of the year in the books and, I must say, it was a rather enjoyable show. I’m not quite prepared to go quite as all in with it as at least one of my LOP compatriots has (see: The Doc), but I certainly enjoyed it. Despite the odd wobble, I’d chalk it up generally as a W for WWE. . While ultimately I much preferred last year’s take on the idea – in no small part because of vastly superior Traditional 5 on 5 Survivor Series Elimination Tag Matches – reintroducing the inter-brand theme this time around ultimately played well for a show that felt special; unique among the library of WWE pay-per-views. Big Four events only ever benefit from that, so kudos to WWE.

As ever, my name is Samuel ‘Plan and this is the Performance Art Review of Survivor Series 2017.

Priorities in All the Wrong Places

Perhaps Survivor Series 2017’s greatest failing was in its male Traditional 5 on 5 Survivor Series Elimination Tag Match that closed out the show.

While the women’s version earlier in the night was sure to do plenty with relatively little thanks to an admirable democracy of opportunity in sharing the spotlight among the ten combatants, on the flipside the male contingent did much less with much more. I feared, heading into last Sunday that WWE would give us another part-timer / veteran focussed story and, unfortunately, time would transform that fear into a reality. The inclusion of the large number of part-timers and veterans might have served well as window dressing to a match focussed on providing a platform for the contemporary characters, but it was tragically quite the opposite.

Randy Orton could not have looked more bored. John Cena could not have felt more irrelevant. Shane McMahon could not have been more uncomfortably “over-booked,” for lack of a more elegant expression. While Kurt Angle’s role was refreshingly minimal and the one instance of good judgement, having another big match conclude with a heavy focus on setting up Triple H’s WrestleMania season was just jarring.

Meanwhile, Bobby Roode was an after-thought, Shinsuke Nakamura, despite some bright moments of centricity, was sent packing too soon and Samoa Joe barely had the chance to make an account of himself. Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn were portrayed with outright contempt it felt like, while Jason Jordan wasn’t even allowed a cameo.

It wasn’t all bad news. On the more positive side, it was encouraging to see Braun Strowman treated with the appropriate degree of reverence, with a memorable showdown opposite the Cena / Orton tandem in particular. I even, for the first time, found myself impressed by a Finn Bálor who watched as motivated and in peak condition. His liquid exchange with Orton was beautiful to behold, and his Coup de Grace getting the so-called ‘rub’ of helping to eliminate Cena was a smile-inducing moment for yours truly; as my The Right Side of the Pond co-host Maverick has pointed out, WWE seem intent, purposefully or otherwise, in making that move into something special. Bálor, in fact, for my money, was Man of the Match.

It is a real shame then, considering the wealth of shared universe potential contained by the line up of the main event, that the only true character work came from the conclusion of the tepid and largely uninteresting Angle / McMahon / Helmsley conundrum that contained no tension whatsoever. Alas, I don’t think this will be a match that ages well because of that squandering. While it was tightly produced and pretty much flawlessly executed, the game plan being executed just wasn’t all that great, with priorities, as I feared, in all the wrong places.

Suplex City Gets Phenomenal

I don’t know what it says about the state of WWE’s fan base today that many of us were going into Survivor Series 2017 with conditioned fears about several of the big matches, and even with a welcome last minute alteration the Universal Champion vs. WWE Champion Match – ultimately wrestled between Brock Lesnar and AJ Styles – was not exempt from those fears.

With the help of AJ Styles, Brock Lesnar was able to finally deliver a much need above-average match, reminding us of his talents when he is motivated to do something other than coast on the Suplex City narrative that developed no less than three years ago now.

As is often the cast with the work of AJ Styles, I’m not quite on board with the most positive spheres of reception to the big champ on champ clash. It was, ultimately, just another Suplex City match; but it was a ‘phenomenal’ version of one. With Lesnar trouncing Styles for minutes on end in the front half, only for Styles to gradually claw his way back into the competition, there was more than a hint of the vastly under-appreciated, to my mind all-time classic wrestled between Lesnar and Roman Reigns in the closing bout of WrestleMania 31. With a touch of blood and more tangible stakes, it might have hit that level; a level that would not have seen me opposed to the most positive spheres of reception.

As it was, what we got was an exciting and robust tale that I felt drew on the two characters in a pitch perfect manner, even if it didn’t dare venture too far from an established status quo. Brock Lesnar’s contempt for his considerably smaller opponent was palpable, and the physical manhandling of the WWE Champion was almost hypnotic in its sheer brute force. The aesthetic of Lesnar’s gung-ho physical cadence and Styles’ unbelievably athletic aerials created a genuine superhuman story in front of our eyes, and without any Hollywood special effects in sight.

In that sense, then, it was exactly what a match between the Universal and WWE Champions should be: an exhibition of the two top pro wrestlers on the planet (as ‘kayfabe’ would have it).

The true storytelling home run, however, was in AJ Styles’ quiet character once again coming to the fore in much the same way it did against his classic opposite Dean Ambrose at Backlash 2016. He plumbed the deepest depths of his extensive offensive arsenal, marrying his impressive retinue of manoeuvres with his most necessary survival instinct, to inch his way minute by desperate minute back toward achieving the seemingly impossible task of slaying the Beast; a task he almost accomplished.

Theirs was a deceptively character driven match that provided a much needed palette cleanser for Brock Lesnar as we head towards what I sincerely hope will be his final few months with the company, all the while revitalising AJ Styles’ ascent towards becoming one of the greatest to grace WWE, in a timeframe so short it might even supersede the otherwise unparalleled accomplishments of The Rock no less (box office aside…).

The Tag Teams Took It

After a sizzling summer for tag wrestling on both brands, it once again fell to The Usos and The Bar, and to The Shield and The New Day, to show the world that the tag divisions might just be the best thing about WWE’s main roster product right now. They did not disappoint.

While The Usos and The Bar didn’t wrestle at quite the break neck pace I had been hoping for, and while the majority of the match did feel quite standard by comparison to the work both teams have been compiling throughout the year thus far, in its more exciting moments the match continued to break ground, express new ideas and set a physical tone that felt smash mouth. It was two sets of school yard bullies coming into contact with one another for the first time, and those villain on villain vibes were the best part of its otherwise rather muted creativity. I really liked it, even if I didn’t quite love it.

What I did love, however, was the show’s opening match between The Shield and The New Day. Yes, we can add yet another masterpiece into the book of the former and a brand new one into the library of the latter; a team long overdue their first all-time classic six-man tag match, quite honestly.

Everything about what those two teams did on Sunday night was utter brilliance, with a story rooted in the different tones of both sets of characters. They wasted no time in translating their differences into action. It’s easy to admire the tit-for-tat opening simply for pairing both memberships up in early exchanges, but there was a quiet genius on show too. The New Day would make a statement and do what New Day do – showboat. The Shield, in response, would do what they do – knock their teeth out. When Kofi boasted over Ambrose, Ambrose slapped his lips off; when Xavier boasted over Rollins, Rollins clotheslined his jaw off; when E mocked Reigns, Reigns elbowed his face off. They were simple exchanges, but spell-binding demonstrations of character upon which the true immersive classics are forged, and in which both sides got to look good.

The entire match played out like a case of New Day’s unity opposing The Shield’s harmony from Big E’s opening remarks about the blood-thirsty ambition of The Shield compared to the New Day’s unwavering love for one another, right through the shifting of advantages – The Shield would demonstrate their individual skills to remain in the game and make saves, while New Day only ever gained ground exclusively when working together.

That is not to say that The Shield didn’t have their fair share of demonstrating their skills as a trio too. While the unity of New Day kept them in the game, the harmony of The Shield often saw them outflank their opponents – such as one early moment of brilliance that saw Kofi blind tag himself in, only to be spotted by Ambrose and ultimately out-manoeuvred by the Hounds in black.

There was symmetry as both teams pulled one another to their feet and leaned on each other as brothers. There was synergy in a plethora of double team and triple team moves coming from both sides. There was even time found to demonstrate established character traits as individuals – Big E as the forgotten strong man, for example, and Seth Rollins as The Architect, at one point screaming at his brothers to “End this now!” Even the execution of the action as a whole was transformative, and demonstrative of the differences between both units; the New Day were always the more showy of the two, while The Shield were much more direct.

It is my belief that the opening bout to Survivor Series 2017 was not just the match of the night but the crowning accomplishment of a spectacular six months for tag wrestling on WWE’s main roster and a strong contender for my own Match of the Year honours. It was tale of unity vs. harmony, as a New Day embittered at not being taken seriously proved a point by driving a vengefully motivated Shield to their very limit, with both sides emerging with new fangled respect for the other. It was everything I had hoped for and more.

The best part wasn’t even its outrageous in-ring quality, nor was it the manner in which everyone involved carried themselves like main event stars, with the competitive attitude of the very best in the business. No, the sweetest reward was that its status to my mind as an instant all-time classic ensured that, in 2017, Survivor Series was once again, for the first time in the longest time, truly all about tag team wrestling.

And you can believe that…bay-beeeeeeeee!

In Closing

I generally really enjoyed Survivor Series 2017, even if it ended on a dour note. The over-achievements of its undercard, though, were more than enough to ensure no sour taste lingered for me; not least of all because of that opener.

I’ll be back on Friday with The Preview Side of the Pond, and of course another The Right Side of the Pond podcast, where I’ll be sharing all my thoughts on every match from last Sunday, and maybe even from the Takeover too. Do be sure to catch it!

Until then, share with me your thoughts on any or all aspects of Survivor Series 2017 down in the comments below or over on social media!

Better yet, alternatively, why not sign up to LOPForums and have a crack at writing your own column? Just click here to get signed up and get writing! Here’s what one of our newer up and coming contributors, two time Columnist of the Month award winner SirSam, had to say about the biggest winners and losers from last Sunday night: SirSam’s Court: Survivor Series Biggest Winners and Losers

Don’t forget to pick up your copy of my book, 101 WWE Matches To See Before You Die, from the LOP Store today! Simply click here to find mine and a host of other books and merchandise on offer, all courtesy of LOP’s own!

For more of my thoughts on the rest of the show, and WWE in general, click here to add me on Facebook!

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