WWE Survivor Series 2020 review: #ThankYouTaker

4/5
30 years of the Deadman looks to have come to an end, in an era that will be sorely missed and never ever replicated.

As many of you whom follow my work (if you still do, then thank you so very much for all your support) may recall, I have kind of soured on the whole brand battle gimmick when it comes to WWE PPVs. The whole thing peaked back in the early-to-mid-noughties and has had highs and lows since then (with even a Raw vs. Smackdown PPV called Bragging Rights running for a bit) but now it seems like it only gets in the way of running storylines for a temporary night where brands all of a sudden become important and divisive (though adding NXT in the mix last year helped a tad). Those days really feel to have passed and yet, here we are again, as an intriguing WWE Championship picture involving Randy Orton, Drew McIntyre, “The Fiend” Bray Wyatt and The Miz is shelved in favour of a Raw vs. Smackdown champion match, alongside a few other brand clash matches and classic survivor series elimination tag battles.

However, I will hold my hands up when I am wrong, and while the brand war has again proved to be a one night deal and the gimmick continues to be a PPV filler for the second longest running WWE PPV for the fifth year running now, this year’s Survivor Series impressed thanks to ring work and the event marking 30 years to the day that The Undertaker graced the WWE ring, as we would all be wishing farewell to – in my opinion – the greatest WWE superstar in history.

So, here’s how the night went down…

I don’t always dwell on the shenanigans that goes on during the kick-off but this was too good to ignore. A usual, the Kick-Off panel found themselves interrupted by the ever brilliant 24/7 Champion R-Truth, who referenced the night being a tribute to a phenom of WWE. However, he thought the night was paying tribute to the Gobbledy Gooker, who made an appearance did a criss-cross dance with Truth before turning on him and rolling him up for the bird character’s first ever title win! He then ran off, went arse over tit by falling over a production crew member and fell flat on his – as Jerry Lawler put it – beak, before slowly sauntering off. The bar was already set high for this night!! Bloody hilarious.

1. (Kick-Off show) 18-Man Dual Branded Battle Royal

A last minute addition to the show, perfectly suited to the pre-show. Frankly I feel this was a missed opportunity to give someone like Mustafa Ali a much needed big win. That said, it was still a fun back and forth affair, with a number of big name stars like Jeff Hardy, Rey Mysterio and Shinsuke Nakamura. In the end though, current Mr. Money in the Bank The Miz would lay low on the outside and blindside Dominick Mysterio to score the win for Raw and more importantly himself. This also gave you the feeling that Miz probably wasn’t cashing in tonight (after all, they did tease that a lot in the run up, so it makes sense to keep that inevitable moment as a surprise instead).

The main show opens with a video package hyping up the brand warfare stuff and The Undertaker’s final farewell…this could be an emotional one for yours truly!

2. Raw vs. Smackdown Classic Survivor Series Match

Team Raw (AJ Styles, Keith Lee, Braun Strowman, Riddle, Sheamus) w/Omos vs. Team Smackdown (Jey Uso, Kevin Owens, Otis, King Corbin, Seth Rollins)

Let me just start off on a weird note but stay with me. Back at Armageddon in 1999, in the Intercontinental Championship match between Chris Jericho and the late great pioneer Chyna, the world would see – for probably the first time ever – a dropkick to the thumb and now, 21 years on, the world was treated to another limb-focused first as Kevin Owens headbutted Riddle’s foot, as part of a frenzied attack on the feet of the barefoot bro! Anyway, that curio moment aside, I know many people online (as always) were irked that Team Raw clean swept Team Smackdown here but I felt this match was exceptionally booked. 20 minutes of fantastic action, which made so many stars look fantastic (Jey Uso, Kevin Owens and Keith Lee especially). Team Raw was built up over weeks prior and in turn was probably the best brand team WWE has ever put together story wise, whereas Smackdown – despite some good talents – was a ramshackle thrown together crew, so Raw’s dominance here made perfect storytelling sense and there were moments aplenty to enjoy. The sensational closing sequence, Seth Rollins’ self sacrifice, some great counters, the Raw team’s clash of personalities and some all out carnage. With the aftermath leaving Smackdown sole survivor Jey Uso out for redemption for this devastating loss…

3. The New Day (Xavier Woods and Kofi Kingston) w/ Big E (Raw Tag Team Champions) vs. The Street Profits (Montez Ford and Angelo Dawkins) (Smackdown Tag Team Champions)

After a great start, the show continued its groove in the ring with this clash of Raw and Smackdown tag champions! Starting with a – for one night only – reunited New Day (with Big E back in tow) coming out in their cool Gears of War in-game character armour, and the match equalled that level of awesomeness. It can be really interesting seeing matches that pit fan favourites against each other and this match lived up athletically to expectation. A really gripping battle of heart among four great competitors, with Montez Ford especially doing fantastic work to sell the injuries inflicted by a near unstoppable New Day. However, in the end, The Street Profits deservedly got a triumphant win over the Raw champs, with a show of respect by all afterwards. I’d call it a passing of the torch moment but the New Day are far from ready to fade out. Great stuff by all.

4. Lashley (WWE US Champion) w/ The Hurt Business vs. Sami Zayn (WWE Intercontinental Champion)

I had horrible flashbacks to the Lashley and Sami Zayn feud from years prior when they announced this randomer for the show (Seriously, Google ‘Lashley’s Sisters’ and cringe at the rottenness). Thankfully, this match was better than that but – despite Zayn’s ace Twitter game and beautiful character work here – this one felt a little unsatisfying. Maybe because it was so crushingly obvious Lashley would go over or maybe because it actually made me agree with commentator Corey Graves for once, at how bizarre it was that everyone was OK with The Hurt Business blatantly stacking the odds for Zayn. Sami may be a heel (in fact in a counter-act to the previous match, both guys were here) but he makes very good points! Anyway, the match was enjoyable enough thanks to Zayn’s tricks to win at any cost but the end result was still eye-rollingly inevitable. And I still remain unsure as to what exactly Lashley’s endgame is now that Brock Lesnar seems done with WWE (chalk that one up as another missed opportunity).

Backstage a dispirited Jey Uso was given a tongue lashing by cousin Roman and Paul Heyman, who told him to leave the building along with his brother Jimmy Uso. Poor old Jey!

5. Sasha Banks (Smackdown Women’s Champion) vs. Asuke (Raw Women’s Champion)

As talented as both of these ladies are, I was a touch fatigued by this match up, after their numerous bouts over the summer. However, this one got by thanks to the fact that both women were allowed to wrestle and with not one sign of a screwy finish (which I expected would happen), giving Sasha Banks her first clean win over the Empress. It was quite good to see that. An entertaining match which may not have had any stakes really but did the job in giving Banks a strong moment, as she heads into a feud with the rebooted and returning Carmella for her Smackdown Women’s Championship.

Backstage 24/7 Champion the Gobbledy Gooker was lured over to a bag of bird seed (yes, really) before being rolled up by Akira Tozawa. The master of the ninjas victory was short-lived however, as R-Truth clobbered him with a sack of seed and got his baby back for what must be the billionth time now!

6. Raw vs. Smackdown Classic Survivor Series Match

Team Raw (Nia Jax, Shayna Baszler, Lana, Lacey Evans, Peyton Royce) vs. Team Smackdown (Bayley, Bianca Belair, Ruby Riott, Liv Morgan, Natalya)

Going in I was not sure who would win this, as both teams were not particularly built on strong foundations. In fact, going in, the only running story was Nia Jax and Shayna Baszler’s brutal bullying of Lana, putting her through the announcers table for many consecutive weeks. This would really become the main story of this match too, as an enthusiastic Lana tagged in and did well briefly before being ordered to stand on the ring steps for the whole match and not tag in again. The match itself was enjoyable, a few botches at points but with enough shocks and surprises (Bayley’s early elimination, Peyton Royce’s great showing and the result) to keep things interesting. The MVP of the match was Bianca Belair, who was ultimately left on her own to face the Raw Women’s Tag Team Champions Baszler and Jax and almost outlasted them, in a great run for the finish sequence that saw Baszler DQ’d and Belair and Jax double counted out. Which meant Lana was sole survivor and winner for Team Raw! Did not see that coming and her celebration afterwards, in light of WWE’s recent poignant Chronicle documentary focused on her real struggles, made for a quite gratifying moment here.

7. Roman Reigns (Universal Champion) w/ Paul Heyman vs. Drew McIntyre (WWE Champion)

Thank goodness Drew McIntyre won back the WWE Championship on the Raw leading to this night, as his face-off with Roman Reigns on the Smackdown prior, instantly made this the better Champ vs. Champ option than Orton/Reigns. Reigns is on fire at the moment as the ruthless and detestable heel champion and Drew is nailing the same kind of tough as nails role but as a babyface champion. This match up shows how both guys have revitalised themselves in such a short time, and it made minced meat of any of their forgettable matches together last year. This had a prize fight feel from the start and frankly the brand element was rendered pretty irrelevant next to the story of two guys vying for the title of “the face of WWE”. And one thing is clear, Drew is that guy…just maybe not quite yet, as thanks to an interfering Jey Uso, Roman got the cheat-a-plenty win here by low blowing and choking out McIntyre. However, much like his title win at Payback, WWE refreshingly allowed Roman to look desperate, as he delivered all his best shots and could not keep the monstrous McIntyre down without help. This was a slow building but intense battle, with a end series of big offence that had you questioning at times how it would end, thankfully WWE didn’t pull a no contest ending either. These two will definitely face again after this war.

8. The Undertaker’s Final Farewell

Well, here we are. 30 years on from the first toll of the bell, facing the possible last. But we have been here before haven’t we? Back in 2014 at WrestleMania 30 when hope died and Lesnar depressingly broke the unparalleled 21-0 WrestleMania Streak. In 2016 when Taker left his gloves behind after Hell in a Cell with Shane McMahon at WrestleMania 32. After the main event of WrestleMania 33 when Undertaker lost to Roman Reigns and left his hat and coat in the ring, breaking character and walking away to the tears of many onlookers in a seeming retirement. When is “the time” for The Undertaker to retire? It is a question we have all asked and begrudgingly had to face. Well, despite the promotion for this night claiming this to be The Undertaker’s Final Farewell…I was not convinced. For this whole ending segment, I was waiting for The Fiend’s grisly grimace to emerge from the plumes of fog and set up one more match but, shockingly, it never happened, and as this Farewell went on, I was faced with the realisation that it might just be time. Maybe.

Starting with the ring being filled with a whole host of diverse legends, many of which haven’t been seen on WWE TV in years, this had a personal edge to it, with the man beneath the hat Mark Calaway being respected too. This mass group contributed of his surviving Bone Street Krew members Savio Vega, Henry and Phineas Godwinn, Rikishi and The Godfather, alongside other current and future Hall of Famers Triple H, Shawn Michaels, Booker T, Shane McMahon, Jeff Hardy, The Big Show, Ric Flair, Kevin Nash, Mick Foley, John “Bradshaw” Layfield and Kane (who was the only one in his full wrestling gear and in character here, and I loved that appropriate touch!). Oddly, these guys did not stick around for the forthcoming festivities but instead just made their presence felt, before handing the ring over to The Deadman one last time. Though the backstage party that followed will probably get its own documentary from what I’ve heard!

The “Now That We’re DeadMetallica video package summary of one unforgettable career played, with some comments from other legends not here on this evening, before an emotional looking Vince McMahon introduced The Undertaker, for us to say goodbye one last time. What proceeded was a Mania worthy entrance (fireballs, an electricity conjuring machine playing Taker’s theme, Levitating run apron mechanics…it had it all). This was Undertaker in-character one last time, and while he will be forever and always welcomed into the house he built, this did feel like a eulogy for the deadman persona and the “live the gimmick” years of unyielding dedication this man had to his craft, company, colleagues and character. He left us with a short but sweet promo, looking teary-eyed himself, before taking a knee for the ten bell salute and paying one last homage to his manager and friend the late great William “Paul Bearer” Moody, who appeared in hologram form, in a very moving moment (that really got me). Taker then left us with his iconic raised fist trademark to close the night.

Finding an “ending” for this character is so hard. He has been there for so many generations, that so many age groups of viewers have differing ideas on what his final act should consist of. I know many feel this empty arena send off was undeserving for a man who has given us so much but considering everything and everyone here, the fact many still feel this was an unsatisfying goodbye speaks volumes to the reverence of the man and character. As I say, we have been here before and maybe this will again end up not being the end, but as things go, your last match being the Boneyard match from Wrestlemania 36 and last in-ring contest being the fantastic Extreme Rules 2019 tag from last year ain’t a bad way to sign off an iconic three decades of destruction.

Overall, Survivor Series was an unexpectedly great night of action, with a memorable send off for the greatest of all time. And on a personal note, no superstar has ever meant as much to me as a viewer as Mark “The Undertaker” Calaway. For many trials and tribulations in my life, he has always seemed to appear soon after, giving me an escape from some truly dark days (especially in the last decade). And if this is the last act, it’s been a hell of a ride, if not, I’ll always be on my feet when that bell tolls (though I can’t imagine many worthy matches left…other than The Fiend that is). But all that’s left to say at this moment is Thank You Taker, thank you for being the man then, now and forever. You have earned this Rest…in…Peace! #ThankYouTaker

4/5
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