Well, following that premium live event, in the words of Cody Rhodes...
"whaddya wanna talk about?"
The obvious is there, right? CM Punk, somehow, makes a bid for another moment-of-the-year candidate for wrestling fans with another "return" - his second over the last four years. This one, back to the WWE, in what felt like the most improbable of opportunities. But as we've learned, WWE truly is where you "never say never".
You can go in so many directions on this one. But without going too far down a road that hasn't developed or we have some headlights on, it's quite clear that WWE is absolutely crushing the wrestling business right now, and adding anything - or anyone - to that continued record success is the mission. They. Are. Not. Settled.
Second, the unveil I thought was great. Just absolute pro wrestling at its peak. As soon as the guitar riff to "Cult of Personality" hit and the familiar graphics hit the screens, my immediate reaction was, "Wow, they did it.". Then my mouth and eyes were agape for a few seconds. Then I thought, they gave us Randy Orton AND CM Punk!
The WWE has sooo many incredible faces and talents right now without needing to utilize (or deploy?) the biggest star in pro wrestling in Roman Reigns until they need to, is the kind of riches a pro wrestling roster aspires to be.
Lest we forget, this is the same company that just had John Cena say, Strikes over! headed back to Hollywood. I may drop back in for Mania. TTYL!
Cena walked out. In comes Randy Orton and CM Punk. SMH.
As for AEW, man oh man, the optics on this are bad. So bad. Just my early take. I've been down on AEW for a while, and that is another post in and of itself.
One quick initial take is the appearance of CM Punk, specifically his look. Punk was presented with purpose on WWE TV (isn't everyone?). There is a glaring difference between there and AEW. He looked fresh with a new cut. Vibrant. Clean. Much different than the haggard look he embodied when we last saw him on AEW television.
Regardless, Survivor Series, one of the more historic premium live events in the company's history felt special for one night once again. And, we'll likely remember this one.
Let's get into it with some really quick and rapid thoughts:
- More on the once "Big 4" feeling - I don't get that feeling anymore about Survivor Series, which is a shame. I'm not sure if it's because of what became a dated concept of the 4v4 (or sometimes 5v5) elimination matches, or just the rise of other events such as Money in the Bank, however, I do think the opportunity is there to return to that status if the company wants it to. Placing the War Games match as a staple could help.
However, overall, the potential to be on the weekend of Thanksgiving, especially the way the weekend has changed in terms of "black Friday" and shopping/social habits, who knows? Maybe a premium live event with a gimmick staple can rebound the event.
- My continued love for simple set designs is still there. WWE always sets the trends. Where every other company is now all big screens and over-abundance of visuals, WWE scaling it back for bigger shows for more seats continues to be the forward move.
- The opening women's War Games match was enjoyable. At the end of the night, I did feel like "ehhhh" for the men's match as it feels like you've seen it and it can feel rather formulaic the second go around. Call me crazy, it feels like they would go weapons in one match and straight physicality in the other, and they did just that. I'm a fan of keeping weapons out of these matches. We've gotten to a place in pro wrestling where "the cage" has lost its prestige. Yup, old man on my lawn talkin' here...
The Damage Control storyline looks to be interesting going forward. Especially, after Bayley ate the pin.
Shotzi was great in her role in this one.
That spot with Iyo Sky jumping off of the cage in the trash can was absolutely nuts. Loved it.
- I am sold on ANYTHING Gunther. ANYTHING! I'm also a big fan of The Miz. Much like Triple H said in the post-presser, The Miz is just that super-utility guy for the company - he does it all really, really well.
Classic Gunther match where he just makes you suspend your belief in the most incredible way. You know what I really loved? The win with the "lion tamer-like" Boston crab and Miz immediately tapping. An overdone spot is the "dramatic" will-he-hang-on approach with submissions. The immediate submission felt real, impactful, and sudden.
Man, I absolutely LOVE watching Gunther perform. I really do. I can't say that enough.
- Santos Escobar and Dragon Lee was yet a great follow. I really enjoyed their match. Most importantly, the continued story of Escobar and the disrespect for the lucha heritage. Good stuff.
- I always wonder what it must be like for some of the talent to get their summons for TV. Did New Day really get marshaled and were like - yup, we gotta be in Chicago a day earlier to shoot a 30-second spot for Slim Jim. Do the talent look at that as annoying or an easy day at the office?
- Rhea Ripley vs. Zoey Stark was another great match on the card. I'm such a fan of the Triple H format of a shorter amount of matches on a premium live event and letting them breathe than what we see in other companies who pack their shows. I get that the real estate for TV and exposure is much different, but I feel like it does make a difference.
Matches like Rhea and Stark get ample time, and while Rhea still walks out with the gold, ultimately, it raises Stark because of the connection allowed to us, the viewers. Maybe it's just me.
I'd like to see more character development from Stark in the future.
- I've really enjoyed the subtle storyline of Jey Uso always feeling like he has to atone for his previous sins with babyfaces he's coming in contact with. Sure, there is Drew McIntyre who technically is a heel. But there is also Randy Orton. There was Kevin Owens. You get the drift. It's a nice approach that I feel (and hope) ties back once things surely pick back up with wrestling's favorite family, the Bloodline.
As mentioned earlier, this War Games was there for me. It's hard to get too invested when you've seen something similar earlier in the night. Orton's return kept this one interesting and my dude looked like a tank.
That super RKO to McDonough...just so wrong and beautiful at the same time. Damn, McDonough. Sorry, man.
I've enjoyed the subtle teases of Priest cashing in since winning it. It almost got lost among all of the chaos and returns, but this was also a great misdirection in the match.
The good guys winning was nice. War Games usually delivers that.
And then we got...
The return of CM Punk to the WWE.
Again, the WWE is poised and ripe to make some serious money on a list of potential matchups that I'm sure you and I already have checked off in the spaces of our brains allotted to wrestling. Which might be too much real estate depending on who we know.
I will end this post though with some reality beyond my fandom. I understand that business is business. I really do. However, I can only imagine the feeling among loyal talent who saw, watched, read, and heard about Punk's comments during his time in the other company for a few years, and now to watch him just walk in and get that spot without it being communicated or gauged is a lot of pride to swallow for the sake of business.
That HAS to be frustrating. And we all know how polarizing Punk can be. It's definitely worth keeping tabs on (if you love that backstage drama that comes with Punk) in considering what seems like a high-morale locker room doing record business.
Nonetheless, for what it's worth from this fan who occasionally drops some thoughts on this tiny space on the internet, the WWE has been absolutely tremendous in 2023.
Next up is my favorite event (and likely many others) event of the year, the Royal Rumble. You just know they're about to set more records for what looks like an unbelievable show.
Buckle up...we're headed to Wrestlemania.
All photos courtesy of WWE.com