Your SO OF COURSE preview of WWE Survivor Series 2016

In this day and age you can’t just “predict” a PPV anymore, you have to to account for the capricious whims of WWE’s septuagenarian, sleep-deprived egomaniac owner. You can’t just “preview” a PPV…you have to preview how things should go, in a reasonable and sane world, and then add “so of course…” and explain what Vince McMahon will probably do instead.

Consider this your SO OF COURSE preview of SURVIVOR RED vs BLUE BECAUSE SURELY YOU’RE NOT SICK OF HEARING ABOUT THE U.S. ELECTIONS BY NOW SERIES, 2016.

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Last time on SO OF COURSE, Raw went inside Hell in a Cell. It was alright. Before that, Smackdown did No Mercy literally backwards. It was…good.

I dunno, WWE has had two okay shows in a row. Can they pull off three in a row? Is such a thing even possible? The hype to Survivor Series is legit and the card looks solid. What is this strange feeling that has come over me?

I’m blown away.

There is still cause for concern, notably in the fact that the show is supposed to run for four(!) hours, yet there are only six matches announced. That said, there isn’t any filler to be found, and amazingly, all of the matches fit into a singular story that the show is build around.

It’s been a long time since Survivor Series lived up to its history. The event started out as a gimmick-show based around team-based elimination matches. The early shows were exclusively devoted to the 5-on-5 tag bouts, and it wasn’t until 1991 (the 5th edition) that a singles match took place (Undertaker vs Hulk Hogan for the WWF Title). Over the years the novelty of the elimination matches wore out and WWF/E phased them out almost entirely. But the Brand Split has brought the team-based concept back to the forefront and, more than any year in the previous Brand Split, it seems like fans are really excited to see the two sides going at it.

In addition to the three Survivor Series Tag Matches, there are two singles titles on the line, where the outcome will decide which brand secures the rights to the championship. And then there’s the main event, which promises to be, if nothing else…memorable.

Let’s break things down:

TRADITIONAL SURVIVOR SERIES ELIMINATION MATCH #1
RAW TAG TEAMS vs SMACKDOWN TAG TEAMS

Of the three, this one will certainly be the most chaotic, due to the fact that twice as many bodies (twenty) will be in and around the ring as in a normal SS match. Team RAW consists of New Day, Sheamus/Cesaro, Gallows/Anderson, Enzo/Cass and Primo/Epico. Team SmackDown features Slater/Rhyno, American Alpha, Breezango, Usos and Hype Bros. There’s a little fat to be trimmed early in the match but several opportunities for guys to steal the show as well. The great thing about these matches is, they don’t necessarily have to come down to there being “one” survivor. You can tell that story, certainly, but there’s also the “Team X just lost a clean sweep!” story, and the “Team Y fought back a 1-3 defect and almost won!” story. As long as everyone who matters gets a chance to shine, you can do whatever you want because these matches are ultimately meaningless exhibitions. The only “stakes” involve the popularity of the talent and their ability to get over in front of an expectedly-hot Toronto Crowd.

With that said, my hope for the match is that Slater and Rhyno have some kind of funny interactions with New Day and/or Enzo and Cass, and that in the end, American Alpha are given the rub. This feels like it could be their big breakout on what will be their biggest stage to date. Get Hype Bros and Primo/Epico out of the way early and let the popular talents do their thing.

SO OF COURSE

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CRUISERWEIGHT CHAMPIONSHIP MATCH
KALISTO OF SMACKDOWN vs (THE) BRIAN KENDRICK OF RAW

Back during the original brandsplit, Smackdown was home to the cruiserweight division, which featured several popular superstars (Jamie Noble, Matt Hardy, Rey Mysterio and more) and fun, fast paced action. The division died because, like everything that dies in WWE, Vince lost interest in it. Fast forward almost fifteen years and WWE brought back cruiserweight action by devoting a whole tournament to it on the WWE Network. Fans were delighted at what they saw, which focused on athletic competition first and less on the storytelling of traditional WWE programming. With the new Brand Split implemented, WWE announced that the cruiserweight division was coming back and would be home on RAW. Considering the Red show has an extra hour of material to fill up every week this made sense. But of course, Raw has proven itself to be the place where “sense” goes to die. The cruiserweights immediately suffered due to lack of focus and within just a month, their matches have become the new “Divas matches” where the only value in them is that they are a good bathroom break.

Now there’s a chance to right the ship. If Kalisto wins the title from (the) Brian Kendrick he will take the title with him to Smackdown. This is emphasized frequently by the commentators in order to drill into us that the titles can move brands but the performers are locked-in…and then they went and said the whole division would move shows if the title did. That makes sense, of course, but the road they took to get there did not.

What should happen? This feels like one of those things where Vince has an idea and the whole “if X wins then Y moves” idea behind the two title matches is just how they decided to make it happen. In that case it seems like we can expect both titles to switch, bringing the cruiserweights to Smackdown. That’s good if you’re a Smackdown fan, since the blue show has proven itself capable of making the most of its talent, both in the ring and in storylines. On the other hand RAW would be losing a whole segment at a time when fans are growing more and more restless at how stretched thin the show is already, so it’ll be interesting to see what Vince does to rectify that (if anything) should Kalisto win.

SO OF COURSE

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TRADITIONAL SURVIVOR SERIES ELIMINATION MATCH #2
RAW WOMEN vs SMACKDOWN WOMEN

Team RAW consists of Charlotte, Sasha Banks, Bayley, Nia Jax and Alicia Fox. Smackdown’s troupe features Becky Lynch, Nikki Bella, Alixa Bliss, Naomi and Carmella. As with the Tag Team Tag Team Match, there is an obvious first-elimination on both sides, which means you can expect Alicia Fox to win the whole thing by pinning Carmella. There’s been a good amount of heat in this match, as the buildup has focused on how the teams are struggling to get along as a cohesive unit. That’s basic stuff but it works when it’s done well and it’s been done well here.

Things went up a notch on the go-home Smackdown that featured a mini-invasion by the Raw women. The crowd responded with genuine enthusiasm which really hits home how well the Brand Split has done in making the two rosters separate in the eyes of the fans. That’s a big reason why this Survivor Series show in general has a lot of potential; fans don’t see the two sides as just two halves of the same coin, but instead as two very different wrestling brands. What’s funny-if-it-wasn’t-so-sad about it, though, is the fact that it’s the same fans who watch both shows, and those fans seem to overwhelmingly support the Smackdown “brand.” When the blue team invaded Raw, the crowd was firmly on their side. When the Raw ladies invaded Smackdown they were booed viciously. Vince has a lot of work to do to make Raw as beloved as Smackdown has already become.

As with the Tag Team Tag Team match, there isn’t anything particularly “on the line” except for pride in one’s brand. It’s hard to know how Toronto (infamous for cheering whoever they want) will react, but just looking at the two teams, there’s Sasha and Bayley on the one and Becky on the other. Nikki may get cheered or she may get booed, it’s really a wildcard, but it seems like the red team is going to have more of a babyface advantage. But that’s the great thing about these elimination matches: A couple quick pins can completely change the dynamic of the fight. I expect the ladies to do what they always do: Try and steal the show. If given the chance, this has potential to be the best of the three.

SO OF COURSE

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INTERCONTINENTAL CHAMPIONSHIP MATCH
THE MIZ OF SMACKDOWN vs SAMI ZAYN OF RAW

Can Smackdown exist without a proper midcard? Is the plan to expand Raw’s midcard with the two titles (US and IC) and let Smackdown’s midcard split between cruisers and world title contenders? There’s a lot of questions and possibilities to consider should Sami Zayn defeat Miz for the IC title. The fact that Miz suddenly regained his IC title, right after it was announced that a Zayn win would see the belt switch, feels like one of those times when Vince moves all the needed pieces into place in order to accomplish whatever hair-brained idea he has. If there wasn’t a plan to switch the titles, then we could have easily gotten Dolph vs Zayn in a 15 minute hyperspeed match that might have blown the roof off Air Canada Centre. Instead they hurried to switch the title to a heel, which points to a title change.

If they do make the switch, it’s hard to see how sustainable it is. Splitting the midcards across both shows makes sense (a lot more sense than splitting up the smaller women and tag divisions) and there isn’t any package deal where several midcarders switch to Raw with the title, the way there is with the Crusierweights. So we’re looking at the possibility of Raw having the same small midcard now feuding over two different titles, while the Smackdown midcard has nothing to fight over. The midcarders not small enough to go after the cruiserweight belt will end up either pairing up for the tag division or becoming fodder for the main-eventers. The move (if it happens) feels like creating two problems to solve one.

But that’s WWE for you.

Either way, all signs are pointing to some shaking up, likely in response to constant negative thoughts about Raw. So let’s be optimistic that the changes Vince has planned will actually work.

SO OF COURSE

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TRADITIONAL SURVIVOR SERIES ELIMINATION MATCH #3
RAW SUPERSTARS vs SMACKDOWN SUPERSTARS

On Team RAW you have Kevin Owens, Chris Jericho, Seth Rollins, Braun Strowman and Roman Reigns. That’s a lineup of champions, big names, and big dudes. On Team Smackdown you have AJ Styles (good), Dean Ambrose (naturally), Bray Wyatt (fine), Randy Orton (yes, but it’s the Wyatt Family version, so…) and Shane McMahon. The roster is just so much thinner on the Smackdown side, yet you can almost take it to the bank that the blue team is going to be cheered over the red team. Does that matter to Vince? We’ll find out based on how they book the match.

And really, this is not going to be a match so much as it will be a series of moments that make the crowd go “ooh.” There’s going a Shield standoff moment. There’s going to be a Braun Strowman/James Ellsworth moment. There’s going to be a Bray Wyatt/Braun Strowman/Randy Orton moment. With this many big names in a single match, it’s going to be about checking off a list to make sure everyone gets their shine, but I expect the crowd to be super hot for it, so you won’t even mind (or notice).

It’s hard to predict these SS matches because there’s nothing at stake. Braun Strowman could end up the last man standing if Vince is feeling old school. Shane McMahon could win the whole thing just to troll everyone. We could end with an Owens/Jericho brawl or a surprise John Cena or Undertaker appearance that swings things for team Blue. Anything could happen which means the most unconventional thing should happen, if for no other reason than giving fans something surprising.

SO OF COURSE

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THE MAIN EVENT
BROCK LESNAR vs GOLDBERG

The big match to close the show will be the epic fight you didn’t know you haven’t been spending twelve years not really waiting for: Brock Lesnar returns from his three month sabbatical to take on Goldberg, fresh off his decade+ sabbatical.

Lesnar has been phoning it in all year, to the point where his matches aren’t even much fun anymore. I want to believe that was because he was spending most of his time focusing on training for his UFC 200 fight and now that that’s over with he’ll give WWE a little more attention. But then I remember this is Brock Lesnar and no, he won’t be doing that. And then there’s Goldberg, who was barely capable of putting on a good match when he was young and cared about putting on a good match. This version of Goldberg is older, slower, and seems content to just go out there and wing it to give his kids a chance to see daddy in a ring.

The last time Goldberg wrestled was the match with Lesnar at WrestleMania 20. It was a match where Lesnar didn’t care and Goldberg was retiring. Neither guy had any reason to do more than the bare minimum in order to avoid getting hurt. They certainly had no reason to give the fans (or Vince McMahon) a good show.

How’d that turn out?

Now we have the rematch and Lesnar still doesn’t care, and Goldberg still has no reason to either. Who out there is actually expecting fireworks?

What WWE is teasing:

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What we’ll probably end up getting:

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It’s going to be a fiasco. It’ll be must-watch, but for all the wrong reasons. Neither guy can call a match, neither guy has a repertoire beyond basic brawling and suplexing. Goldberg is going to be gassed very early on and Lesnar is just going to strut around the ring and flex. The crowd is going to go bananas for the entrances and initial staredown. They will be hot for the first lockup and tussle and then….downhill.

If WWE has any brains they will book this to be a 10 minute fight with all kinds of outside shenanigans to distract the crowd and end it with Lesnar getting his win back.

SO OF COURSE

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Oh well there’s always NXT (and Smackdown!)…

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