By Colin McGuire, ProWrestling.net Staffer (@McGMondays)
So … Survivor Series was a dud.
I don’t know if I can even say bad, boring, or irrelevant, which are three words used by a lot of people who watched the show. Instead, there’s no better word in my mind than the one used, which to me sums up the whole exercise perfectly: dud.
Just a plain, ol’ you know what it means, you just can’t describe it, dud.
Why was it a dud?
Well, my guess is you don’t need me to explain it because we all know the inherent flaws the event has. For the umpteenth year in a row, there were no stakes to any of the matches outside of some phony-baloney “brand supremacy” nonsense. That began with the champions of each brand. No, I don’t care about seeing Roman Reigns vs. Big E, because Roman Reigns vs. Big E can happen again anytime between now and Dec. 1 on either Raw or Smackdown and nobody would be surprised. That’s what happens when one of your biggest gimmicks (the brand split) has been bastardized so much that the entire notion has little to no credibility.
As for Becky Lynch vs. Charlotte Flair … I don’t know, man. It was the match of the night, for sure, but it wasn’t the first time we saw it and it won’t be the last because those two will carry the women’s division in all of WWE for years to come. Plus, at this point, we can all probably agree that maybe their feud could have started with the seeds of a shoot, but by the time we got to Sunday night, it was obvious the two leaned into it so much that the whole thing felt like a work catered to the smart fans who keep up with the podcast interviews and the Instagram posts and the backstage reports.
Then you had the elimination matches, which were the true victims in this mess. What used to be a cool novelty when Survivor Series began more than 30 years ago barely has an impact for a thousand reasons, not the least of which being the fact that we see elimination matches on television with some semblance of regularity now. Combine that with the fact that the sole survivor gets nothing for his or her troubles and you have a whole lot of “Who cares?” on your hands.
Perhaps inserting more salt into the metaphorically hopeful wound this year was …
NO GREAT ONE
The will he/won’t he of The Rock. Because if you thought Charlotte and Becky decided to lean right on into what they stumbled upon … hooooo boy, WWE held nothing back when it came to the potential of The Rock showing up on his WWE anniversary in front of a New York crowd. There’s leaning into something and then there’s smothering whatever it is with all your might. And when it came to the 2021 Survivor Series, this company decided to do the latter.
Which, to some degree, is fair. Reports started to swirl months ago that WWE wanted The Rock at the Survivor Series this year, presumably due to the anniversary, if nothing else, and then that appearance, it was speculated, would in earnest kick off a Rock/Roman program for WrestleMania. And even if that speculation and those reports were rebuffed again and again in the interim, we all know to never say never in the WWE, and therefore those inherent expectations and/or hopes were justified, even if it ultimately ended with disappointment.
Did Vince McMahon have to push all the buttons he could find on the dashboard in front of him by inserting this egg nonsense and drawing the parallels with The Rock’s movie? No, but McMahon is nothing if not someone who loves pushing all the buttons he could find on the dashboard in front of him. And maybe this was the type of ad campaign the movie wanted to run with WWE, so his hands were tied either way. Who knows? Money is money. Business is business. Blah, blah.
But now that we have the stench of all that became the 2021 Survivor Series out of the way …
What if we looked at this differently?
It would have been silly (and, to be fair, unintelligent) to go into Sunday night’s program thinking we were going to be blown away by the evening of professional wrestling/sports entertainment. And no, I don’t say that with the snobbery it initially suggests — “AEW is cool!” “Go watch NJPW!” “GCW is hardcore!” “PWG is the industry’s best-kept secret!” is not my attitude here. It’s just that … well, WWE isn’t the beacon for great programming these days and I think any objective fan could agree with that.
But once the show mercifully ended and the expected outcome of Roman Reigns beating Big E played out (sans an appearance from The Rock, by the way), it became more clear now than it has in recent memory that WWE is a company fully trapped in the throes of transition. It isn’t thinking about change coming, and it isn’t introducing ideas that will precede a massive shift in the way things happen in that company; instead, the company already made those decisions and right now, we get to watch as all the pain of change bleeds through onto our television sets every Monday, Tuesday, Friday and sometimes Sunday.
That in mind, it’s hard to think that what we see now will be the new norm, and instead, it’s worth hoping that one day, WWE will again find a formula that attracts a hardcore wrestling fan all while entertaining everyone in between by producing content that appeals to everyone. Sure, that’s wildly optimistic these days, considering the content that the company is currently putting out, but I’ve long adhered to the idea that in some cases, all you have to do is not give up and ultimately the pendulum will swing.
No, that doesn’t work all the time in every walk of life, but WWE didn’t begin operations 10 years ago and it’s not like it became publicly traded the night before SummerSlam. To think that it’s going to take a bunch of hits from critics, have a period of not-popular almost universally derided content and see a dip in TV ratings and just say, “Oh, well. Shoot. I guess that means we gotta stop now,” is almost as wrong headed as it would be to have a 25-man battle royal with “pizza” being the biggest superstar in the match.
Anyway, WWE is McDonald’s. It’s an institution. Oftentimes, saying “I’m going to pick up some McDonald’s” is confused with, “I’m going to pick up some fast food.” It’s the same with WWE. Even if you watch AEW more than you watch WWE, if you approach a non-fan of either, you might say, “I’m going to watch WWE,” before you say, “I’m going to watch pro wrestling.” And if you say the latter, chances are you’ll get a response with something along the lines of, “Oh, that WWE stuff?”
My point is that sometimes McDonald’s has good concoctions on its menu and it lasts for a limited time; it’s the same deal with WWE. It ebbs and flows and it’s not going to stop doing either of those things. Sometimes, it’s midnight and you need a $1 hamburger just like sometimes, you’re disconnected from your wrestling fandom and you need a place to start so you fire up WrestleMania. It’s just what it is.
And it’s with that in mind, that we ought to be aware of one thing …
DIRECTIONLESS AND DEAF?
If WWE is in transition mode, let’s at least understand that any transition is the product of teams of people. The buck always stops with McMahon, sure, but it seems like it’d be safe to assume that Nick Khan is making a whole bunch of unpopular decisions these days, too. Then there’s Bruce Pritchard. Kevin Dunn. John Laurinaitis. It’s very easy to single out these flashpoint names and blame them for all the things that make the current WWE product what it is (not good), but how could any of us really know the machinations of what happens on a day-to-day basis in that company anymore?
Instead, let’s admit what we do know: NXT has been dealt somewhat of a kill shot. Dozens of awfully good wrestlers lost their jobs very recently. The flagship weekly program, Raw, is the drizzling shits. Pay-per-views seem meaningless. Even the WWE network, which was a lot of fun when it first floated into our viewing worlds, sold out to Peacock and kind of/sort of sucks now. I mean, in so many ways, Kevin Owens simply walking out of his Survivor Series match as a member of the Raw team represented the majority of the WWE fanbase in recent months.
But is this the product of being directionless and deaf? Or is this merely the growing pains that come with a company whose board’s chairman is nearing 80 years old, recently had to navigate through a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic, lost — due to health reasons — a guy who kept the product moving in a direction that so many people loved to see, and also, oh yeah, now faces legitimate competition for the first time in more than 20 years?
That’s a lot of things to have on a plate, and we haven’t even left the appetizer section of the buffet. It’s all to say, there’s so much new that WWE has had to deal with in the last two years alone, that maybe it got caught off guard and maybe a little too much ego offset any modicum of contingency planning anyone could do. So, sure, maybe there’s a bit of scrambling now, and maybe some rash (read: bad) decisions are currently being made, but …
NOTHING LASTS FOREVER
This isn’t forever. It can’t be. And if it is, I’ll eat my old Junkyard Dog action figure from 30 years ago.
The Survivor Series format will change. Maybe not next year and maybe not in five years, but eventually, ultimately, it will change. That’s what a company like WWE does — oftentimes it’ll do what it should later than it should, and sometimes, it’ll even do what it should earlier than it should — but by hook or by crook, it gets done. The same goes for the lazy booking, the half-assed stories and the inherent predictability that oozes from any and everything WWE puts out into the universe.
And you want to know why I’m so confident all this will happen? Because professional wrestling actually does have a checks-and-balance system, and that system is purely the fans. If the WWE numbers get so low that the company starts losing money and the ratings plummet even more than they have been plummeting, they are going to start listening more closely to those CM Punk chants and they are going to strive to never hear another chorus of “boring” float throughout an arena in which they occupy.
In response, they’ll change the formula. This was already proven when WCW had WWE on its heels for a little bit in the 1990s. McMahon led the charge to turn the presentation around because he felt like he had no other choice. That’s why you don’t need me to tell you that competition in pro wrestling is a good thing for you to already know that. It’s just that in the context of where the WWE is now, and how confusing a lot of its decisions seem to be anymore, the only thing us fans can cling to is exactly that: competition is ultimately, in the end, good for pro wrestling.
In the meantime, we suffer through an egg storyline on Raw tonight and we shake our heads at the disappointment of The Rock not being in Brooklyn last night. Just remember, though, as you fire up that replay of Full Gear, if only to feel just a little better about the current state of pro wrestling, that the death of WWE is nowhere near imminent and that’s a good thing. Because transition is tricky, change is hard and growing is even harder.
Should it be as hard as WWE makes it for us viewers? Probably not. But hey. It’s always darkest before dawn … right?