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Posted in: Just Business
Just Business presents #102: Chapter 11 ~ The 102nd WWE Match To See Before You Die
By Samuel 'Plan
Aug 20, 2017 - 5:55:03 PM

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Just Business presents #102: Chapter 11 ~ The 102nd WWE Match To See Before You Die

102 WWE Matches To See Before You Die


Braun Strowman, Seth Rollins, Roman Reigns, Chris Jericho and Kevin Owens vs. Shane McMahon, Bray Wyatt, Randy Orton, AJ Styles and Dean Ambrose, w/ James Ellsworth
Traditional 5 on 5 Survivor Series Elimination Match
Survivor Series
20th November, 2016

The aim of this series from the beginning was to find one match that in some form manages to represent the myriad issues at the heart of how WWE’s product has changed between Summerslam 2014 (the event at which the latest dated entry of my book, 101 WWE Matches To See Before You Die, took place) and WrestleMania 33 (the event at which my research was completed). Doing this first necessitated identifying just what those issues were.

The impact of the part time star; the shift in John Cena’s role; the form of a prodigal Chris Jericho; the Second Brand Extension; the maturation of the WWE Network; the Women’s Revolution; the ascent of Roman Reigns; the slew of modern masterpieces in the ring; the central role of The Shield in the contemporary generation; and the renaissance of mid card championships have all, in their own right, come to dictate the overall shape of WWE’s product today throughout the timeframe this series has focussed on. Indeed, many of them continue to dictate the shape of the product as we head into Summerslam this evening.

It is worth noting that, due to the inclusion of the Women’s Revolution on that list of issues, and its prominent place among them, it would be impossible to select a single match inclusive of every idea, unless I’ve missed an inter-gender classic somewhere down the line. There is, however, a match that does, in its wider context, passively speak of the change in women’s wrestling, alongside the other issues on the list, and it is that match which I had no choice but to select: the men’s Survivor Series Elimination Match at Survivor Series 2016.

Some of the issues this series has dealt with, such as the Women’s Revolution, are accounted for in only a passive sense by the gargantuan achievement of last year’s Series. Others are present in a far more obvious manner. In every instance, however, we can see these issues all exert some form of pressure on the selected bout, helping it to transform into an exhaustive demonstration of WWE’s new look product in the foremost days of the Renaissance Era.

In large part, this is because of the stage upon which it is set. Survivor Series 2016 was a show constructed with a palpable sense of renewed purpose, as WWE retooled the one of its Big Four it came close to once scrapping as an event unique to the Second Brand Extension. From the evening’s opening package to the hype package preceding the match itself, much is made of the contrast between the two shows, the individual identities and accomplishments of each and, first and foremost, the notion that they were intended to compete with one another. This was not limited solely to the men’s Series. It was a comprehensive approach, defining the card top to bottom, including even the then-struggling Cruiserweight division. To coin a cliché, every match mattered.

It is in that very environment that we can see how the Women’s Revolution had changed WWE’s product. Earlier in the night, in a separate match entirely, the women were provided the exact same opportunity as their male counterparts: a 5 on 5 Traditional Survivor Series Elimination Match. Such equal opportunity was the very point of the entire Revolution. It is true the women failed to receive the same leviathan run time as the men, but it was built to on television with a symmetrical creative approach and executed in a fashion free of gender issues; the only issue regarding the inequality in run time is more related to the structure of the card, not to the gender of the participants.

It is in the 50 plus minute run time of the men’s match that we find the influence of the WWE Network’s growing importance. Even in the earliest days of Survivor Series’ lineage, when prolonged Elimination Tags were the only match type to appear on the show, none went as long as this, the longest and most definitive of its kind. Not even the famous 5 on 5 Traditional Tag Team Survivor Series Elimination Matches were afforded such duration. Further, consider that the Team Authority vs. Team Cena affair of Survivor Series 2014 was one of the longer iterations of the sub-genre in decades, and still only clocked in a whole ten minutes shorter than 2016’s own effort. There is no doubt that the prolonged run time, then, was as a result of the event itself running longer than ever before: the first of its kind to run for over three hours, though by no means the last. WWE have since moved to ensure their Big Four Little Three are all four hours long, presumably to help excuse WrestleMania now stretching to five, sans pre-show.

While it is far from a stretch to assume that the longer Survivor Series Match was as a result of having more time to fill because of the longer Survivor Series event, it does seem a little much to claim that the move to the pay-per-view being over three hours long happened only because of the WWE Network. Little, if any evidence supports the claim. What we can deduce, though, is that the unofficial over-run of WrestleMania 32 that began this trend of bloated durations was, even if only in part, nonetheless enabled by the freedom afforded by the Network for events to run long; this would, in turn, have only encouraged WWE to lengthen their other Big Four events too, and Survivor Series 2016 took full advantage of that in the form of my selected bout.

For some, the 52 minute running time this match enjoys might prove to be a problem. Whenever you have to set aside a whole hour simply to watch a single match, there is a liability of putting some discerning fans off from ever revisiting it. I would discourage such pessimism, and for one reason: beyond anything else, the match is a masterpiece. More, the match is a masterpiece on each of the three levels explored earlier in the series.

In terms of genre, it is difficult to find a more expressive 5 on 5 Traditional Survivor Series Elimination Match. Rarely has the swinging momentum of the numbers game altered so radically in the span of a single affair, but without ever over-shadowing the pertinent sense of character informing every plot twist that enables those swings. It is a marathon of a match that enjoys its ensemble cast and puts each member of it to better use than I can remember seeing any other match of the same type doing with its own cast. What’s more, the wide deployment of eliminations does little other than strengthen the already epic feel by ensuring there is no prolonged downturn in the excitement or action: the warfare is fittingly unremitting.

Character infusions further support that; there is no denying this is as much a character masterpiece as it is a genre masterpiece. Character informs every decision made by every participant at every turn, drawing on existing storylines, long standing rivalries and the teases of dream pairings to compile an enrapturing war story. Jericho’s reminder of Ambrose’s $15, 000 dollar debt to him; Strowman’s temporary run in with his mentor Bray Wyatt; The Shield reunion, and the reaction of Reigns and Rollins to the elimination of all their other team mates; the explosion between Ambrose and Styles, and the frustrated reaction of their commissioner; these are but some of a laundry list of character driven exchanges that commit the match fully to the fiction in play. There are no tinges of Reality here, and for once it plays to the favour of the bout. It’s completely immersive and eagerly faithful to years-worth of existing continuity.

It makes sense that Reigns and Rollins, even before their team dwindle in numbers, would naturally go to one another to work as a team, and would do so as fluidly as they did when they were once the Tag Team Champions in 2013. It makes sense that Kevin Owens would foolishly lose his temper at being embarrassed by his Smackdown Live (SDL) opposite number, causing himself to get disqualified; and it makes sense that Chris Jericho would become vaingloriously upset at the destruction of his List as a result. It makes sense that Orton would “take the bullet” for Wyatt in the bout’s conclusion, and it makes sense that the disparate elements of SDL would suddenly click as a cohesive unit when faced with the rapidly escalating threat posed by Strowman. To then utilise all of these character elements to structure a match so flawlessly, so as never to bore the audience, is an achievement that should be spoken of more and lauded quite unashamedly.

We can add structural masterpiece to the list of its accomplishments, then.

And tonal, too. Once Strowman has been blasted through the announce table, bodies are strewn everywhere. They lie among the wreckage of the announce desks; they lie where they landed diving through ropes; they lie even in the time keeper’s area; and once Strowman is eliminated, so too do they lie in the entrance way. By halfway through the match, the messy aesthetic of a battlefield torn apart by the chaos of war is affecting.

Strowman is a large part in allowing that sense of chaotic urgency to come blazing into life. This is very much a platform performance for one of the most immediate beneficiaries of the Second Brand Extension. The way his SDL opponents portray the dread of his threat – through their cohesion and their “bumping” – substantively underlines the claim made by Corey Graves on commentary that the Monster Among Men was Monday Night Raw’s (MNR) nuclear warhead. It is one to be slotted in alongside history’s best Series’ platform matches, reminding especially of how Diesel once ploughed through Razor Ramon’s team back in 1994.

Indeed, the entire match accounts actively for how the Second Brand Extension had both a positive and negative effect on the positioning of talent. That Strowman is the centre of the match’s entire second act is testament to how the Extension freed up breathing space to seriously develop stars with potential. On the flip side, however, the presence of James Ellsworth in such a big time affair, even when excused by the role of a “mascot,” is a reminder of how the Extension has so frequently gotten things wrong as well.

Nonetheless, the good outweighs the bad on that front, providing an optimistic view of the intentions of the Second Brand Extension if nothing else. Kevin Owens enters as Universal Champion; Dean Ambrose as the former WWE World Heavyweight Champion; Bray Wyatt is allowed the all important final victory; and, perhaps most tellingly of all, Randy Orton actively and enthusiastically plays only a minor bit part, second fiddle to the New Face of Fear if anything. He might survive once again, but his participation is far from the central crux he has occupied so often in the same environment: in 2003; 2004; 2005; 2009; 2011 and 2012.

Equally important as the reduced role played by RKO, of course, is the complete absence of the man many still mistakenly think of as WWE’s foremost performer and character: John Cena. Taking the important step made in 2014, where Cena’s role in the main event was even more of a cameo than Orton’s in 2016, this time John Cena is entirely absent from a match that, conceptually, is portrayed as the biggest possible match WWE was able to compile at the time. The “five top stars” on both brands, and the Cenation Leader is nowhere to be seen? It might be easy to read into that more than is intended, but it remains a telling indicator of the Cena Shift explored in Chapter 2 of this series.

This is not to say part timers are entirely absent, and that more spots couldn’t have been given to talents set to be at the heart of WWE’s product for years to come. Shane McMahon is the glaring example here. It would be grossly unfair to claim that the Boy Wonder adds nothing to the composition. He plays his role well, and it is one produced with demonstrative wisdom. He garners no elimination over any of the full time wrestlers; he plays the face in peril over any of the full time wrestlers; and his two big stunts make perfect sense in the moments they occur, driving the narrative forward and providing two of the more memorable sequences of a match overflowing with them. Oddly, though, he remains at the forefront of the action for the majority of his time present, over and above, say, Bray Wyatt. When it gets to the point Shane McMahon is single handed taking on two thirds of a group that dominated WWE for two years and proving himself so capable that his brand’s colour commentator proclaims him their team’s MVP, one begins to second guess the apparent wisdom on show.

Mercifully there is no sign of any bizarre decision making, or any of the creative mess that dogged McMahon’s participation at WrestleMania that year. You simply cannot escape the feeling, however, that the role he serves might have been better placed in the hands of a full time talent capable of achieving the same sympathetic performance; or even a complete alternative, capable of bringing their own tantalising possibilities to the menagerie of talents involved, such as the originally scheduled Baron Corbin. For all its great qualities, this is not a match that escapes the part time blight.

Chris Jericho does, however, and if you want a match expressive of his return to famous form you need not look any further. In a sign of how brilliantly his character work had gone over with fans that year, he gets one of the louder pops upon his entrance; a feat that repeats itself whenever he tags in. His performance speaks volumes without drowning anyone else out, and his elimination is a moment of comic beauty that is sure not to derail the gravity of the developing situation. It’s a balanced, integral but never over-shadowing performance from a man on career best form.

Then there’s The Shield. This series has examined the issue of The Shield’s role in the contemporary locker room, and found their ascent to its heart to be undeniable when considering events of the last three years. This match only further solidifies their status, both as individuals and as a group, and the importance of that status on the roster today.

The issue of Roman Reigns’ unpopular push rears its head the moment his music hits; the negative reaction is deafening. So too does the issue force its hand at the bout’s climactic sequence, where Reigns stands the sole survivor for MNR and teases an unlikely comeback against SDL’s premier group. It is difficult not to feel the temptation to roll one’s eyes at the predictability of it. Thankfully though, Reigns fails to eliminate anyone when left on his own, and is gifted a suitably human, suitably flawed performance, refreshing in its humility. Perhaps most satisfying of all is its tribute to the memorable conclusion to the famed Shield / Wyatt Family encounter at Elimination Chamber 2014, with Orton “taking the bullet,” to allow Wyatt the victory. It’s almost a mirror image, in fact.

It’s also worth noting that, while little is made of the fact, Roman Reigns is the reigning United States Champion at the time, meaning that the final participant on Team MNR, and the final elimination in the biggest, longest match of the calendar year, when two World Champions had already bowed out, was a mid card champion; question the approach to mid card titles today we might, but recognise this prominent and lasting fact we must.

What helps assuage any bitter taste related to Reigns’ spotlight at the end is the tragically beautiful manner in which the shattered Shield begins to recompile itself throughout this blood and guts narrative. From the effortless exchange between Rollins and Ambrose in the early goings that ends in a pop inducing stalemate indicative of perennial equality, to the natural reconnection between Reigns and Rollins halfway through that speaks to their lasting chemistry as brothers, to the emotionally powerful Shield reunion that carried with it so much more emotive heft than previous instances of the same trope and even laid the groundwork for tonight’s big tag title battle on Team Red, right through to the tribute to The Shield’s only other Survivor Series Elimination Match in 2013 as Rollins and Reigns face insurmountable odds without support, all three members of The Shield provide many of the action’s best highlights, and all of the opus’s most emotional highpoints. One could spend an entire column simply examining the manner in which their interchanging relationships with one another evolve and inform the entire match.

For now, it should be enough to point out how integral they are to such a sweeping Epic so clearly attempting to define the conceptual purpose behind the most defining factor of its Era’s product; that being the Second Brand Extension. It is only another sign to pile on top of those explored in Chapter 9 of this series that indicates The Shield’s place as the top dogs of their generation.

It should be clear, then, that this is a complex beast of a match; a leviathan monument that, to my mind, is unmatched in terms relative to necessary achievement. It’s countless layers ensure its ability to speak to the majority of issues that this series has determined have informed the change in WWE’s product since Summerslam 2014, and where the match itself fails to do so the context of the event it highlights picks up the slack. Exhaustive barely seems fitting enough a word to describe it, but might be as close as we can get.

Whether or not it comes to be definitive will depend on how this Renaissance Era in WWE continues to progress. I am confident, however, in line with the intended aim of this ten week series, to proclaim the men’s version of Team Monday Night Raw vs. Team Smackdown Live at Survivor Series 2016 the 102nd WWE Match To See Before You Die. If you want to be able to identify how radically WWE has changed since this time three years ago, this is the match for you; perfect for the hardcore, casual and newly minted fan alike.

If you want to know what the other 101 WWE Matches To See Before You Die are, and why they all work together to demonstrate how WWE today is best received as a performance art rather than as sports entertainment, you can head over to Amazon to pick up my book, which remains on sale for less than $/£3 all this Summerslam weekend! Or, if you’d prefer, you can always grab your copy from the LOP Store instead!

I’ll be returning with my Performance Art Review of Summerslam 2017 on Wednesday, but until then be sure to share with me your thoughts in the comments below or over on social media about any or all of the issues explored throughout this series; on how you think the product in WWE has (or perhaps has not!) changed since Summerslam 2014; and whether you think I’ve picked the right match as must see, or if there are any better candidates indicative of the same ideas!

Thanks for reading!

This mini-series is a spin-off of my first book, 101 WWE Matches To See Before You Die, spawned from the acclaimed LOP column series of the same name. So for more of the same, click below to pick up your paperback or e-book copy today!

Click here to pick up your copy of 101 WWE Matches To See Before You Die from Amazon.com

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