Sunday, November 23, 2008

Survivor Series 2008

We'll leave the X-Axis capsules for tomorrow, because if I don't get this up in the next couple of hours, it won't be a preview any more...

Survivor Series is one of the major pay-per-views in the WWE's calendar, if only because they've been using the name for years. Like a lot of the early shows, this one has a gimmick: traditionally, it used to be a show full of five-man elimination tag team matches. Of course, at ten wrestlers per match, that's an awful lot of wrestlers, which is why they've moved away from the format over the years. Nowadays, you get a bunch of conventional main event matches, and some elimination matches on the undercard.

To be perfectly honest, I haven't had time to watch most of the build-up for this show... but let's go through the card anyway.

1. WWE Championship: Chris Jericho v. John Cena. Jericho is still the heel champion on Raw, and his long-running feud with Shawn Michaels is over. That begs the question: do they want him to be a long-term champion, or is it time for a change now that the story is finished? The subtext here is that by now, the company will be lining up their plans for Wrestlemania 26 in the spring. If Jericho isn't going to be in the main event at that show, then they need to get the belt off him fairly soon.

Cena has been out with injuries for a while, and this is his return match. Unusually, it's been promoted entirely with video packages for Cena, and the occasional promo from Jericho; the two haven't even met in the build-up. Cena usually gets a divided reaction, not because he's written that way, but because a lot of fans rebel against his kiddie-friendly persona. However, this is his return match in his de facto home city of Boston, so he should get a hero's welcome.

I'm expecting a good match. Seems a bit sudden for Cena to win, so I'd guess some sort of storyline finish with Jericho retaining, setting up a rematch.

2. World Heavywight Title: Triple H v. Jeff Hardy v. Vladimir Kozlov. The match you were meant to vote for last month, damn you. Instead, to the surprise of absolutely nobody, the fans voted to see Triple H and Jeff Hardy again, and Triple H won decisively, retaining the Smackdown title. That seemed to set us up for Triple H and Vladimir Kozlov, the stone-faced Russian killer heel who's been ploughing his way through the midcard for months but hasn't had much experience at the top end of the card. He's also been wrestling Triple H at the untelevised live shows, and reports say it hasn't been great.

Meanwhile, there's been a sudden effort to rehabilitate Hardy, the story being that he's been driven to breaking point by coming so close so often, and is now acting even more erratically than usual. The WWE website has a story up claiming that Hardy was found unconscious at his hotel earlier today; obviously that's a storyline, but it tends to suggest Jeff isn't winning today. The usual wrestling websites suggest Edge is likely to show up, as well, which is probably enough of an event without a title change. So, Triple H probably retains here, and I suspect Jeff gets pinned to continue his self-destruction angle.

3. Casket match: The Undertaker v. the Big Show. Two very large men punch one another again, and this time the aim is to put your opponent in a coffin. One of the least interesting gimmick matches in the WWE repertoire, attached to one of their least interesting feuds. I honestly couldn't care less who wins.

4. Batista, Kofi Kingston, CM Punk, Matt Hardy & R-Truth v. Randy Orton, Cody Rhodes, Shelton Benjamin, William Regal & Mark Henry. Team Batista versus Team Orton. Batista needs to be rebuilt after an abortive recent eight-day title reign (he beat Jericho at the PPV to win the Raw title, and then lost the automatic rematch). But Orton has recently returned to the active roster from a long period of injury, and he's got tons of momentum behind him as one of the top heels on Raw. My instinct is that Orton's team should win here: that momentum is worth keeping, and you can always rehab Batista in December.

Batista's team are a bunch of decent midcarders. Punk and Kingston are the Raw tag champions, which doesn't mean a great deal. Matt Hardy is the ECW Champion, but he's got a knee injury, which is presumably why he's being put in a ten-man match where he won't have to do much. R-Truth is a rapper character from Smackdown; he only debuted recently but they seem to have lost interest in him already. Chances are he's getting pinned early.

Orton has a couple of second-tier singles champions in Benjamin and Regal, both of whom are generally good; Mark Henry from ECW, who isn't, but who'll be fine in a match like this; and Cody Rhodes. Cody is in an odd storyline, the thrust being that he's a midcard heel who keeps trying to prove to Orton that he's main event material, and can't quite get it done. Orton doesn't want him on the team, but he's stuck with the guy. This is a dangerous storyline: they're trying to get Cody into the main event mix, but they're doing so on the strength of a story premised on the fact that he isn't good enough to be there (yet). They've managed to pull it off so far. Anyway, that's presumably going to be the story focus of this match: what happens with Cody.

Lots of good wrestlers in this match, and the weak or injured ones can be easily concealed. I expect this to be entertaining.

5. Shawn Michaels, Rey Mysterio, the Great Khali & Cryme Tyme v. JBL, MVP, Kane, John Morrison & the Miz. Something of a dumping ground for wrestlers without much else to do. The team captains here are Shawn Michaels for the babyfaces and JBL for the heels, both of whom are spinning their wheels between feuds at the moment.

The teams are a motley crew. The babyface team comprises the ever-popular Rey Mysterio, the lousy giant Khali (who's just turned babyface in a dubious comedy role), and loveable criminal stereotypes Cryme Tyme, who are fairly popular but whose matches rarely amount to much. The heels are actually better: Miz and Morrison are one of the strongest teams around at the moment, Kane's alright as a big guy, and MVP... well, MVP's doing the dreaded losing streak gimmick, supposedly because he annoyed the wrong people.

Some potential interest here surrounds John Morrison, who has potential to go far, and how they treat him when he's in the ring with the top babyfaces. He beat Michaels in a tag match on Monday, which was something of a surprise; if he pins him again tonight, then they're presumably heading for a Morrison/Michaels feud, which would be a Very Good Idea.

With ten guys you can usually play to everyone's strengths as long as you work it out carefully. The good guys probably win, since the heels are stuck with MVP, who can't be on the winning team for storyline reasons.

6. Beth Phoenix, Mickie James, Kelly Kelly, Candice Michelle & Jillian Hall v. Michelle McCool, Maria, Maryse, Victoria & Natalya. The Raw women versus the Smackdown women. Alarmingly, this is an elimination match; it could drag on a while. The last time they did a ten-woman tag match at Survivor Series, it was for one fall, which seemed a more realistic assessment of the likely match quality. Both teams are a mixture of babyfaces and heels, so chances are the story will be internal tension on each side. It doesn't matter who wins, and the match is likely to be dire. (And yes, the Smackdown women don't get surnames for some reason. Don't ask me.)

Worth buying? Well, the two title matches have some interest, and Jericho/Cena should be good. And as long as they're laid out well, these elimination matches usually work. Should be an above average show.