An opening gambit to this review will be a bit of a spoiler for the rest: this PPV was fantastic. Considering this PPV nearly died, it certainly underwent a rebirth last night! The similarity of feel to this year’s classic Money in the Bank PPV is quite remarkable, in match quality and crowd participation, and certainly makes it an instant classic – thanks, in part, to The Rock, but not exclusively by any stretch of the imagination.
Match 1) Dolph Ziggler def. John Morrison to Retain the WWE United States Championship
It can’t be avoided that Ziggler wasn’t really at the centre of attention by the end of the night, so hot were some of the performances, but when looked at as a whole, Ziggler really did as expected and shone last night. One of the memorable things about this match was the crowd’s burying of Morrison because he was there instead of Internet Champ Zack Ryder, and their consequent support for Ziggler. Vickie’s valet-ship was excellent here, covering her ears to the ‘We Want Ryder’ chants. It is clear though that WWE cultivated these chants; they’re building (or perhaps just capitalizing on) a ground-swell of support for Ryder which will surely end with Ryder taking the US title and Ziggler moving on up to the main event fringe. As for the match, it was really good, with Ziggler doing his best methodical, showy, performance. Spectacularly besting JoMo before soaking up the crowd’s reaction. Tailored to that, Ziggler was probably in control for most of the match, but there was some really good back and forth too, and in fact, Morrison looked close to winning after a big tornado DDT, only for Vickie to get Ziggler’s foot on the bottom rope. With this happening, it was clear Morrison wasn’t simply being buried here, and he was – to be fair to him – a important part of the match’s success for once. As the match continued to a finish, the two traded some cool, quick progressions that really got the crowd going and forget about Ryder briefly. Morrison looked to have the best of it following a big knee as he went for Starship Pain, but Ziggler got his knees up to Morrison’s back to sell Morrison’s neck in a nice bit of storytelling. Ziggler followed up with a Zig Zag, and after that, the retention was just a formality. The crowd were happy about, eventhough Morrison provided a good performance, because they didn’t want Morrison, they want Ryder. Ziggler’s ‘follow that!’ post-match promo was pretty sweet, but, in a way, in all its simplicity, Ryder’s inclusion was wonderful. Whether it was planned, or whether it was a responsive audible, Ryder’s post-match run-in really made the crowd happy and justified Ryder’s continuing push. Surely he will receive a title shot on the back of that reaction, if he wasn’t due one already, and that just goes to show the magic of sincere support for a guy who loves the business and wants to make a success of himself.
Match 2) Beth Phoenix def. Eve Torres in a Lumberjill Match to Retain the Divas Championship
This was a decent match, but let’s face it, it is only really memorable because of the amazing Super Glam Slam that ended it. Still, as (relatively) short as it was, the two gave us a respectable outing. The lumberjill stip didn’t have too much of a bearing on the match apart from the important storytelling moment of Beth bailing the ring at the sight of Eve booty-popping, only to be sent back in without much incident. After some nice work, Eve teased a moonsault, only for Beth to stop playing possum and attack, which led to the awesome finishing move and the retention. In the preview, I was unable to even consider that the outcome could be pleasing, but they really succeeded. It seemed like a rebirth for the ‘Divas of Doom’ as Beth looked dominant, won with a super-powerful finisher, and looked unbeatable. Not only that, but the announcers framed her as such. They have quite a mire to get out from, but last night went some way to success.
The Rock Cut a Promo and Did His Whole Act in Three Minutes
Rocky is an unbelievable talker. He is electrifying. That really is the best word to describe him, he gets you interested; he gets you excited.The problem is, the excitement is often (though not always) empty as a lot of the excitement is about how great The Rock is being, and not how we’re excited to take on, say, The Awesome Truth later. I understood the significance of his promo, especially at the start when he explained the meaning of MSG to him because his father and grandfather had both wrestled here, but then it turned in to some sort of self-tribute act where he simply went through all his cathphrases. Electrifying, but not interesting. I actually tweeted that Rock is arguably the best talker ever, but that Punk is the best promo today. Compare Rock’s RockyMania tour promo to this 15 second promo from Punk which built for the match and got him over in a fraction of the time Rocky took.
Team Barrett def. Team Orton With Wade Barrett and Cody Rhodes as Sole-Survivors
To labour a point I always make, matches with so many people in it are hard to review. In these matches, keeping score is more important than the wrestling for the most part, though that is not to say that there can’t be lots of sweet moments. This was the only traditional Survivor Series match on the card, but perhaps because of that, this match stood out and was carefully booked. Ziggler was, again, a star just coming to the ring, shouting, in response to his earlier question about who could follow him with ‘oh, I’m gonna follow me!’ – what a great line! When I saw him enter the ring to face Orton, I was hoping for some wonderful wrestling from two of the best alive, so I was a little upset it was cut short with a quick RKO. This isn’t too big of a problem though, because Ziggler simply doing double-duty was what was impressive last night. Less impressive was Sin Cara’s exit, though it’s not fair to be too hard on him because his injury is more sad than anything; after a lacklustre start to his WWE career, this set-back is going to cost him months and potentially kill any momentum he has. His one hope now is that he can rely on a well-timed ‘return pop’ to get him back in the favour of the fans. Mason “Tastes Like Chicken” Ryan’s exit was at the hands of a lovely sequence from Cody Rhodes, who used his tag team prowess to get a perfectly timed blind tag to Hunico to allow him to hit a Beatuful Disaster followed by CrossRhodes for the pin-fall and a big pop from the MSG crowd who were high on Rhodes and good wrestlers and unsupportive of Mason “Income Tax” Ryan. The way Rhodes went to smugly celebrate with his team just goes to show the little things he does which makes him a future superstar. Kingston did ok in the match. He had some nice spots, as you would expect, including a nice sequence where he hit his pendulum kick to one of the heels on the apron, which put him in the perfect position for Barrett’s new Big Boot signature (apparently now called the ‘Barrett Barrage’). As is right and usual since Bourne’s suspension, however, Kingston is on the back-burner, so he wasn’t a highlight player in the match, and was eliminated by a Wasteland by Barrett. Rhodes and Orton had some more great work together before the most baffling bit of booking of the whole night. For some reason, Sheamus started his heel knees to Swagger, ignoring the ref’s count and getting DQ’d, and then after being DQ’d, he was so angry at Swagger for receiving his knees that he felt he deserved a Brogue Kick. Swagger’s no nice guy, but what did he do to deserve that? I understand it was probably a way to get Swagger eliminated (he was pinned after the Brogue Kick), but more importantly, to get Sheamus eliminated in a way that doesn’t require him being beated because that doesn’t happen to Great Whites. Hunico, who had a pretty nice outing last night, not looking out of touch with the bigger stars in the match, was eliminated with the crowd-pleasing though perhaps a little waring springboard in to Super RKO spot. This left us with just Orton, Barrett and Rhodes. Given that Orton had gone from four against 1 to two against one relatively quickly, I think most people expected a couple of RKOs, a babyface win, and drinks backstage for Orton, but happily, this formulaic booking was interrupted as the more realistic numbers game came in to play. Orton went down fighting, as a face of his stature should, but after fighting off Rhodes with an RKO, he ran in to Barrett to be barraged with a Wasteland, allowing Barrett and his team to pick up the unlikely win. Before the match, Cole had made a great call about Orton’s unprecedented success at Survivor Series (indeed, this will be the only mention of the commentary here because it was actually pretty good), and especially with this fresh in our minds, the victory made Barrett and Rhodes look and appear to be really strong. Now Barrett and Rhodes have legitimate bragging rights over Orton and Orton arguably has something to prove, while not at all looking bad as he went down to numbers.
Match 4) Mark Henry Retained the World Heavyweight Championship as The Big Show def. Mark Henry via DQ
The MSG crowd last night really helped make the PPV special with their sincere, creative chants and their sheer enthusiasm for most things on the show. I have talked innumerable times about how good, hot crowds can make good shows great, but I have also explained that bad crowds can make decent shows bad, and unfortunately, the MSG crowd fell in to this category for this match. This was a good match made ok, if you follow. There’s no getting around the fact that the opening half of the match was pretty dry, but that does not excuse the fans chanting ‘BORING’. As is often the case, Brandon Stroud put it better than I can be bothered to try and best: “There is never, ever a legitimate reason to chant “boring” at two wrestlers wrestling … “Boring” is disrespectful, and makes you look like an asshole. Bottom line. “Boring” is the reason why wrestling became so ADD in the late 90s … 24/7 hardcore titles were born, people started turning on each other every week, and even the Gods of Puroresu gave up complex storytelling for head-drops. “Boring” is a statement on you, not what you’re watching.” Back to me, and one of my favourite things about wrestling is the sheer respect between everyone involved. OK, the ‘boring’ and ‘you f**ked up’ are parts of a 90’s desire to be more involved with the kayfabe world, but when it comes down to it, these guys are putting their lives on the line, and if you don’t like it, do something else for a while or make no noise or whatever, but don’t shout ‘boring’. Not everything everyone does is going to be great and it really makes it difficult to rise above the stigma of the chant. This match succeeded in doing this anyway, which is a real testament to Show and Henry! As the match progressed past the slowly-developing holds, they moved on to more shocking spots which drew upon their big spots together. They teased a superplex, crashed through the barricade to chants of ‘Holy S**t!’, and finally hit an improbable elbow drop from The Big Show which again threatened the ring, led to a beautiful Randy Savage chant, and allowed Henry to look amazing by kicking out. The crowd were won over, and had started to help rather than hinder the match, but at this point came the somewhat disappointing finish to the match. Despite kicking out of the Showstopping Elbow Drop, Henry was on the ropes, and after avoiding a WMD, he apparently decided to cut his losses and get himself disqualified. This made sense I suppose, to keep the title on Henry and continue the feud, but first of all, at PPV, DQ finishes are never pleasing, but more importantly to me, the finish showed Henry as something other than amazingly unstoppable, again. A decent enough match which was certainly memorable though, thanks to all the big-weight-break spots. Big Show KO-ing Henry makes sense as Henry’s cheated him out of his match and potentially a championship, though the leg drop to Henry’s chair-wrapped ankle perhaps seemed a little far; it was, however, an apt form of revenge, and these two should definitely be given a chairs match at TLC. Of course, thoughout this, the crowd were begging for Daniel Bryan to cash in his MITB briefcase. Indeed, I think, like with the collapsed ring at Vengeance, WWE are actively staging these perfect opportunities for AmDrag to cash in, in order to highlight the sheer honour in his character which wont allow him to win a championship that way. No doubt, Bryan will only be tempted more going towards WrestleMania, which will be very intriguing, however he reacts to it.
Match 5) CM Punk def. Alberto Del Rio to Win the WWE Championship
In the preview to this PPV, I explained how the build to this match didn’t enthrall me, but at least when it really mattered, these two did enthrall me with a match I certainly consider to be a Match of the Year candidate! The North-East MSG crowd were behind Punk from the start, and after Del Rio came out with his usual pomp and circumstance, including personal ring announcer, Punk did a great job of countering that self-satisfied ceremony by having undeniably awesome best ring announcer ever Howard Finkel announce him to the ring. Even I was chanting Howard Finkel at home when he approached and the emotion on The Fink’s face shows exactly why he’s so respected. And boy, when Punk approached the ring, I actually think the noise rivalled, and maybe even bested the noise in Chicago. It was electrifying in its own right, and like that night in Chicago, Punk worked the crowd to perfection, to a frenzy. With them in tow, and two great wrestlers facing each other, the stage was set for a fantastic championship match. Instantly more important than it appeared in the build to the PPV. After a deliberate start to the match, which saw the two feeling each other out as technical wrestlers should, the story moved to being around submissions, and Del Rio especially working Punk’s arm, but Punk working on Del Rio’s arm himself. Rodriguez was always going to be a factor too, and in order to win, Punk would need to dispatch him, as was seen when Punk chased Rodriguez round the ring, only to run in to a beautiful, perfectly timed dropkick through the ropes from Del Rio, which he capitalised on by smashing Punker’s hand on the steel ring steps. Indeed, most of the first portion of the match was Del Rio dishing out the punishment, with him regaining the advantage pretty quickly after attempted comebacks from Punk. This was especially great when Punk went for his ‘patented’ knee, only for Del Rio to avoid it and hit a low version of his enziguiri to Punk hanging from the turnbuckle. As the match progressed though, the gritty Second City Saint fought his way back increasingly in to the ascension. Punk fought off Del Rio’s attacks to the arm on the turnbuckle before the Savage elbow and more sweet Savage chants. Punk had spent a lot of time trying to hit the GTS, but after this, after another attempt, Del Rio reversed in to the Cross Arm-Breaker, and because it was in the centre of the ring, and because of Punk being a face not afraid to sell pain. He didn’t, however tap, and managed to make it to the ropes. Just the fact that a top face looked like he might tap is great for everyone, and great for the WWE Championship as a whole – it’ll mean defenses mean more. After another GTS attempt, the Rodriguez factor was concluded as the ring announcer hit the apron for the distraction, but in a nice bit of splicing, as Del Rio pushed Punk away, Punk carried the momentum and hit a big boot to Rodriguez. Del Rio goes for the Cross-Armbreaker, but this time, Punk is able to jockey in to the Anaconda Vice, and though Del Rio was clawing at Punk’s face in a pretty gritty, cool way, he eventually succumbed and tapped. Wonderful, wonderful match here; certainly a rival to Punk-Cena from MITB, especially with the perfectly clean finish in mind. The scratching and clawing was awesome in itself, the sweet progression between submissions aside as they gave a real sense of realism that is lacking from submission ‘struggles’ like John Cena’s shiny lying on someone’s back and hugging them routine. It was great to hear The Fink announce Punk as ‘the winner of the match, and Neeeeeeew WWE Champion’ and it must have been special for Punker too. Following the match, we saw the familiar celebrating with fans routine, but this time it seemed, again, more genuine, just because it’s Punk. Instead of just standing by them, he added his own touch by diving in to a delighted crowd and really being among the people, again, like the ‘Voice of the Voiceless’ should!
Match 6) The Rock & John Cena def. The Miz & R-Truth
Of course, The Rock came out last out of the four, and just before he did, I realised how special the moment would be, and it didn’t disappoint. I expected Rock to look slightly ridiculous, his massive body squeezed in to trunks, but no, he looked like normal Rock pretty much, other than his Goldberg head and vaguely tribal tattoo, but upgraded to a kind of superbeing … out of a movie. And to my surprise, his performance was equally surprisingly pleasing. I was pleasantly surprised also that Rock started the match out. I kinda expected the hot tag to get him in the match, but instead, refreshingly, Rock wanted to start the match out , and prove that ‘he still got it’. To my mind, he certainly hasn’t ‘lost’ anything. Rock clearly wanted to make a statement – a wrestling statement, and he did that with his opening salvo of sweet, deep arm-drags, and a La Magistral pin. It’s not a surprise that he can do it, but it was great to see him do it so effortlessly and crisply, and the consequent ‘Wel-come back’ and ‘you still got it’ chants were deserved. I don’t want to go over the top, because Rock wasn’t in the ring for that long, but during my preview, I worried about Rock not being as explosively brilliant as his 2001 self, but if anything, again, he was at least as good as that, and, if anything, better than that – the super-Rock I mentioned earlier. One word sums up his early performance, and it isn’t surprising: ‘electrifying’. I was pleased to see Miz and Truth each wanting a shot at The Rock, because it showed a bit of bravery against The Great One, which obviously shows them in a good light. Unfortunately for them, Rocky pretty much bested them again, before it was decided they wanted Cena. Here came the almost obligatory awkward tag between the two as Rock dismissively slapped Cena’s hand as if to say ‘follow that’. Of course, Cena had a tough act to follow, and of course, that was the whole point of the story of the match. Cena then deployed all of his ‘technical’ wrestling – snap mares, a monkey flip, a dropkick, though somehow, when Cena did it, it seemed more cynical. Possibly importantly, Cena wasn’t as dominant as Rock was and instead went in to usual SuperCena booking of getting beat up for ages, but never, ever, giving up. This was good as it gave Miz and Truth a bit of the spotlight, and not just against Cena,because at times when it ‘broke down’, Rock was vulnerable to attack, and indeed, the only time he looked at all vulnerable was when Miz and Truth cheap-shotted him at ringside. This was especially true when Truth clotheslined Rock at ringside, which was the only time I remember him being knocked down in the match, before being dropped on the barricade and selling it like a champ. For a while, Cena continued to struggle against Awesome Truth, having to fight off the effective team with a partner disinterested in his safety, but eventually after making Truth miss with a fancy leg drop, he got the hot tag to Rocky, who exploded out of the corner to dominate the heels with more trademark moves like his boot and DDT combo to Miz, the Rock Bottom to Truth, the Sharpshooter to Miz – which was broken up by Truth, who was subsequently speared out of the ring by Cena in the first bit of really effective teaming from the faces. Meanwhile, Miz tried to beat on the Rock, but ended up with the huge trademark spinebuster, followed directly by the pulling off of the elbow pad and the People’s Elbow for the win. One criticism is that the end of the match was a little formulaic. Maybe the break down of the match didn’t work quite enough, but though the People’s Elbow is a cool and natural way to end , it seemed a little sudden. While I expected Miz and Truth to win, and while that loss hurt them even more than they have been hurt as of late, perhaps today’s announcement of a wellness policy suspension for Ron Killings explains it. On reflection, I certainly don’t mind Rock getting the pin. It was a natural, feel-good finish to the match, and the crowd ate it up. After the match, Cena was meekly allowing Rock to ‘have his moment’, but this is where Cena was publicly humiliated. Rock called him back in the ring, ostensibly to allow him his moment, but then it became clear that Rock wanted to show Cena, passive-aggressively, that he is the man. After getting his pops on the turnbuckle, he invited Cena to get what he ‘deserves’: boos ringing out. Right here, Cena really looked pathetic, and it must have been intentional, but though he had words with The Rock, the fact the he got Rock-Bottomed himself seconds later undermined any manliness in Cena while Rock continued to pose and take all the adulation. This sounds like criticism, but it isn’t. It’s fresh and interesting to see Cena be humbled in this way. It doesn’t mean that Cena wont snap down the line – indeed, one day, he will snap, and the more tension we build between them until then, the better. An understated but impactful finish there, and while people may have wanted a big brawl, it is too soon for that. This was the right level I think, and it capped off a wonderful, memorable PPV.
Indeed, it was wrestling near-perfection. The weakest match on the card, Henry-Big Show wasn’t bad by any stretch of the imagination, while the rest of the matches were good, and at best, we had some moments that will go down in history surrounding The Rock, and a MOTY candidate from Punk and Del Rio. This will be another PPV I buy the DVD of.