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Posted in: Just Business
Just Business: The 5 Lessons of the Build to Survivor Series 2017
By Samuel 'Plan
Nov 19, 2017 - 3:43:46 AM

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Just Business: The 5 Lessons of the Build to Survivor Series 2017

We are merely a few hours removed from Takeover: War Games, and only a few hours away from the last Big Four event of the year, and to say it’s been an odd build to tonight’s show would be an understatement. I believe there are lessons to be learned from it, though, and so, to warm you up for tonight’s big happening, here are five lessons I believe the bespoke, improvised and unexpectedly great build to Survivor Series 2017 teaches us.

1. Roster Positioning Matters

We can’t really be certain as to why WWE made their last minute changes to the Survivor Series 2017 card – and by extension the Smackdown Live (SDL) roster – but it’s safe to say that they certainly came off as exactly what they are rumoured to be: late in the game improvisations designed to boost interest in the event. Regardless, whether these decisions were responsive measures or random acts, there’s no denying they have been very much for the better.

Suddenly, with two simple but sensible (and fitting) title switches, new life was breathed into an otherwise bizarrely mundane card. Charlotte vs. Alexa Bliss may not necessarily be a dream match by conventional definition, but it certainly feels like a clash between the two most prominent and successful main roster female performers of the post-Revolution world. In that sense, it’s perfectly fitting for a Big Four inter-brand champion on champion bout.

AJ Styles vs. Brock Lesnar is of the same ilk. It’s not really a dream match (I don’t think Lesnar features in any of those anymore…) but it certainly feels like the two most dangerous in-ring competitors of today coming toe to toe; that both are World Champions speaks only to confirm their status. Like Charlotte / Bliss, it is conceptually pitch perfect for the new underlying concept of Survivor Series.

These tantalising matches, as well as the dull alternatives we’ve narrowly avoided, collectively demonstrate that one widely believed idea is very much true: roster positioning matters, and putting championships on the right performers is half the battle to an exciting product won. Here’s hoping the alterations stick, for the good of SDL if for nothing else.

2. Dream Matches Don’t Need Part-Timers

The Men’s Traditional 5 on 5 Survivor Series Elimination Match fills me with conflicting emotions. I have loved the way the two teams have come together, and thoroughly enjoyed the manner in which new additions have gradually become bigger and bigger in name value as each brand responds to the other with a fresh escalation. Nonetheless, the prevalence of part-time performers bothers me immensely, and fills me with dread that, while the match will deliver on the entertainment, its focus might be in all the wrong places.

This is especially frustrating because of the presence of The Shield vs. New Day on the same card; what is, as far as I’m concerned, a true dream match, and one that features no part-timers or veterans, consisting instead solely of contemporary acts of the contemporary locker room. Shouldn’t that tell us something?

There was a time when I could understand WWE’s decision to use part-timers so prominently. I agreed that, in a transitional period for the company, it helped boost excitement in light of a lack of viable alternative top stars. This is no longer that time, though. Now, there are many viable top stars – not least of all The Shield – who continue to be denied the platform they would do so well with, because WWE have settled into a habit driven by their nostalgic addictions to use part-timers seemingly, now, simply for the sake of it.

The Shield and New Day are the two most dominant groups of the last decade. The Shield changed the very face of WWE’s future, forever. New Day is one of the most consistent, longest running top teams ever. Both were separated by time, and while I would contend New Day aren’t in The Shield’s league there is, nonetheless, a fatalistic sense of timing involved that marks this meeting as a dream match; it’s quite possibly the only time, ever, that this could happen as naturally as it has.

The inclusion of their match has proven that WWE no longer need to roll out the retirement home every time they want to make a big occasion out of something. Thanks to a cadre of three dimensional characters and world class in-ring talents that have developed over the last half decade, there are now plenty of full time alternatives that WWE should willingly embrace as the “big deal matches” they are instead.

3. Always Watch the Whole Story

The Shield vs. New Day is quietly at the very heart of the entire inter-brand war about to go down at Survivor Series, with both teams having led the invasion of the opposing brand. What I loved most of all about those segments was their deep contrast in tone: a lesson, if ever there was one, in why waiting to judge a story until it has fully played out is so important.

At the time the SDL invasion of Monday Night Raw (MNR) took place, while I really liked the concept, I was less than enamoured with its execution. I disliked the borderline comic tone of how it all played out, which at times felt uncomfortably rather like those old West Side Story promos they ran before Royal Rumble 2005. It certainly felt more like an example of braggadocio – of playground bullying – than it did of legitimate warfare.

By contrast, I adored the MNR retaliation on SDL this last week. It was intense, felt dangerous and carried the tone of a bunch of really, really pissed off folks seeking hot-blooded revenge. It was all business, without boastfulness and possessed of razor sharp, cut-throat focus. It was a direct opposite to the SDL first strike.

Taken individually, one could criticise the tone of the SDL invasion and praise the tone of the MNR retaliation; or vice versa, if so inclined. Importantly though, taken together, they demonstrate an absolutely inspired sense of character. Of course a New Day led attack would feel irritatingly petty; because that’s the kind of characters they are. They love to have fun, and sometimes that fun involves beating other people up. Of course this would rile The Shield up beyond belief, and of course a Shield led retaliation would therefore feel frighteningly violent; because that’s the kind of characters they are. They’re all business, and often that business involves hurting other people.

Individually, either of the two segments might not necessarily have functioned all that effectively in the minds of more cynical fans like those of us who dwell here on the internet. Together, though, they demonstrate the contrast in character between the two groups set to clash in a dream match at Survivor Series, both of whom rest at the heart of this entire, ever-escalating war.

4. Shared Universe is Always Best

The vibrant ingeniousness at the heart of the turmoil on recent WWE television has been the balancing act struck between building tensions between both brands while, at the same time, not failing to ignore still unfolding feuds within the rosters of the two shows too. The result has been an incredibly active product teeming with life, and a sense of three-dimensional world building we don’t see often enough in WWE, considering how easily they seem to manage creating it.

The build to Survivor Series started with a challenge from one champion to another, and a pre-emptive strike by one brand on another thanks to the manipulation of a friendship. Since that time, events have spiralled further and further out of control.

At the same time, as the two shows have gone 1-1 on invasions, built teams to combat one another and escalated what started out as friendly competition into a body count waiting to happen, Braun Strowman and Kane have gone to war; The Shield have lost their Tag Team Championships, then reunited in full; AJ Styles has dethroned a now bitter Jinder Mahal; Jason Jordan has risen to and fallen from grace thanks to nepotism on both counts – nepotism of a father and son, and of a wife and husband; Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn have continued to be a thorn in the sides of their own SDL compatriots; Charlotte and Natalya have furthered their long running family feud, reuniting a father and daughter in the process; and there’s more besides. In every corner of WWE’s landscape, characters have clashed with well-rounded agendas and fleshed out storylines at the same time as an epic, world-spanning arc has unfolded.

With intrigue at every level, never a dull moment and a legitimate feeling of consequence to the actions of every character everywhere, it is such shared universe storytelling that sees WWE at its absolute best, and has always been the trademark of their strongest creative periods throughout their history. The company might have stumbled into it this time around, but here’s hoping WWE are able to maintain this sense of vibrancy as both brands retreat once more back into themselves post-Series.

5. Survivor Series Has a Bright Future

Finally, I believe the build to Survivor Series 2017 has demonstrated that the franchise has a very bright future ahead of it. Who would have thought it was on the verge of cancellation some years ago? For the second year running now, Survivor Series has carried an inter-brand theme that has seemingly served to encourage WWE to treat it like the Big Four pay-per-view it is; it’s about damn time they did so too.

Some aren’t fond of it, and I get that. It might feel like a bit of quick-fix thinking on WWE’s part. It’s hard to deny that it’ll require fresh slants on the central concept every year to maintain the idea’s effectiveness. Remembering inter-brand competition beyond the confines of November, in even passive fashion, probably wouldn’t hurt either. Nonetheless, if the concept is what it takes for WWE to continue this new trend of treating Survivor Series with the same love and adoration with which it treats the other three Big Four shows, then I’ll happily take it.

As a matter of fact, if this year’s event can succeed as well as last year’s, then we might be looking at a new golden age for Survivor Series, the likes of which we might never have seen before. 2014’s main event; 2015’s championship tournament; 2016’s old school approach to new school themes; this year’s penchant for dream combinations; like, love or hate any of these, one constant is clear: Survivor Series matters in WWE once again.

These are the lessons I believe we can learn from the build to Survivor Series 2017, set to go down in just a few hours later tonight. Until it does, share me with your own thoughts on the build to this year’s event – do you feel, like me, that it’s accidentally created one of the better periods of television in WWE in the last two years, or has it left you feeling cold? Let me know in the comments below or over on social media, and I’ll see you Wednesday for my Performance Art Review!

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

Click here to add me on Facebook!

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