After weeks of turmoil thanks in large part to a viral plague infecting the Raw locker room, WWE turned to Survivor Series, where Raw and SmackDown Live will face off in a series of matches, culminating in a five-on-five traditional Survivor Series elimination match. Last week, the SmackDown roster put Raw "under siege," delivering a Nexus-style, scorched-earth beatdown to nearly the entire red brand’s roster. It was a bizarre, bloodthirsty overreaction in anticipation for a match with ostensibly nothing but bragging rights on the line, meaning either the SmackDown roster had completely lost their minds, or the WWE writers couldn’t be bothered to come up with any legitimate reason for the animosity (hint: it’s the second one).
A roster in peril, a series of botched plans and an unclear direction for the future — what’s WWE to do? Why, send in the McMahons of course! When something needs a boost of importance, the solution is usually sending in Vince, Shane or Stephanie to tie it into wrestling’s royal family somehow. That manifested itself tonight as Stephanie McMahon made her return to Raw, where she hasn’t been seen since WrestleMania 33 (possibly making her the worst commissioner in WWE history?).
In one promo, Stephanie shifted focus from Kurt Angle’s triumphant return to a WWE ring and the quickly escalated rivalry between the two brands to herself and her brother, as the McMahons so often do. The story is no longer Kurt Angle and Shane McMahon, competing show leaders and longtime friends/rivals engaging in a battle for brand supremacy. It’s about Shane getting a one-up on his sister, and baby sis wanting to ensure that doesn’t happen. It’s a fine story, but it’s just been seen time and time again. Does everything of any import have to revolve around McMahon family drama? Shouldn’t this be more about Kurt Angle than it is Stephanie McMahon?
Thankfully, the biggest news coming out of the opening segment of Raw was based on the show’s General Manager: Kurt Angle will once again be suiting up to wrestle at Survivor Series as Raw‘s team captain — alas, presumably this time in his red, white and blue singlet instead of The Shield’s riot gear. One has to wonder if this was always the plan for Kurt’s big in-ring return, or if his last-minute replacement of Roman Reigns at TLC hastened his return to semi-regular status. Either way, even if it is on the backdrop of yet another Shane vs. Stephanie squabble, with Angle at the helm and the caliber of talent involved, the main event of Survivor Series should be a memorable one.
Hellfire and Brimstone
Kane month continued tonight in a big way, as he laid waste to four of the most popular Superstars in WWE today. It all started with a Team Hell No reunion of sorts, as Daniel Bryan arrived at Raw to try to assuage Angle’s fears and make it clear that he had nothing to do with the assault his brand led against Team Red last week. While Bryan was on the phone, the lights went out (2spoopy4me) and Kane chokeslammed his former fellow tag team champion through a table, forcing Bryan to receive medical attention. Then, following Balor’s match against Cesaro, Kane Tombstoned Finn on the entrance stage on the way to the ring for his match against one half of the Raw Tag Team Champions, Seth Rollins.
Rollins, another former associate of Kane (Corporate Kane was once tasked with protecting Rollins during their time together in the Authority, and was even the reason Rollins won the Money in the Bank briefcase that catapulted his career), got shockingly little offense in against the Demon. Some shenanigans with The Bar and Ambrose ensued, but Kane easily got the win against Rollins with a chokeslam.
It’s kind of hard to believe Kane’s motivation for returning is so flimsy. He was so upset that people were calling Braun Strowman a monster that he came back? Don’t get me wrong, it’s great to see him back, especially since this month marks 20 years since the Kane gimmick debuted, but the man’s a legend. He deserves a more coherent story than that. One one hand, it’s nice to see him racking up big wins against some of the biggest talents in the company right now, but it’s frustrating because you know he won’t be around too long, so what’s it all for?
The Monster Rises
— WWE (@WWE) October 31, 2017
Halfway through the night, The Miz received a "gift" in the form of a bag of garbage that was clearly an omen of a returning Braun Strowman, back to avenge being thrown into the back of a garbage truck at TLC at the hands of The Miz and the rest of his team. Miz and his Miztourage tried to leave the arena early, but Kurt Angle wouldn’t let him until the show was over. So the second Alexa vs. Mickie ended, they tried to high tail it out of there, only to be stopped by Braun Strowman literally rising out of a pile of trash.
Braun Strowman manages to make the hokiest, silliest moments imaginable into absolutely badass ones that feel like they’re straight out of a cheesy horror movie. In a lot of ways, the enjoyment derived from pro wrestling is very similar to that of bad horror movies, so that means Braun Strowman is extremely good at his job. A systematic beatdown of The Miz and his goons takes us off the air. WWE has a tendency to bring people back on air way too soon, and this is no exception — Braun definitely should have been off the show for at least a few more weeks. But it’s impossible to deny how much damn fun Braun is to watch, so it’s hard to complain about his early return.
The Rest of the Card
- Looks like the rumors of Nia Jax’s demise were greatly exaggerated. Amidst various news sources reporting several different reasons for Jax’s sudden absence from WWE programming, including Sports Illustrated reporting she refused to lose to Sasha Banks, Nia is back on Raw. She secured a spot on the women’s five-on-five match at Survivor Series after making quick work of Bayley.
- Tonight’s episode ended up being a night of returns, as after Stephanie and Nia made theirs, Samoa Joe returned to Raw for the first time since SummerSlam. It’s great to see the Samoan Submission Machine back in action, even if it doesn’t appear as if there are any immediate plans for him. Like Nia, he easily disposed of his opponent tonight — in this case Apollo Crews, who tapped out to the Coquina Clutch.
- The Miz was forced to defend his Intercontinental Championship against a mystery opponent as punishment for arriving to Raw late. That opponent ended up being Matt Hardy, one of the year’s biggest "what could have been" stories in WWE. Matt has been floundering since his brother Jeff went down with, astoundingly, the first serious injury in his WWE career. Since then, Matt has mostly been playing fill-in roles here and there, and that unfortunately seemed to continue tonight. Matt tried to end the match quickly, with multiple unsuccessful rollup attempts before trying to hit the Twist of Fate within the first two minutes of the matchup. In the end, though, Miz retained his title surprisingly cleanly with a Skull Crushing Finale.
- The real story surrounding The Miz, of course, is that Bo Dallas is back! #WelcomeBackBo
- After sending Emma packing from WWE (right, Lio?), Asuka demolished a local competitor. While I hope they have plans for the Empress of Tomorrow in the works, completely destroying fools to truly showcase her dominance to an audience who may not know her is a great use of her. Better than having competitive matches with a low carder, anyway.
- In the workhorse match of the evening, Finn Balor and Cesaro squared off in a bout that was every bit as good as you’d expect. There are enough problems in WWE’s booking and direction these days that it’s easy to take for granted these kinds of incredible matchups we get to see every week. Cesaro is freakishly strong, able to manhandle people far bigger than Balor, so going up against someone who could be in the Cruiserweight division ends up being a clinic for him. Balor wins with a modified Coup de Gras, sort of. I’m a big fan of WWE matches ending with a move other than a finisher (or a roll up), though it happens so infrequently it almost feels like a mistake when it does.
- Side note: Cole and Graves officially called Balor "the extraordinary man who can do extra-ordinary things" enough times to make it clear that’s the new nickname Vince is pushing for him. Ugh.
- It wouldn’t be a Halloween episode without a fun, if meaningless, Trick or Street Fight. This year, Heath Slater/Rhyno and Gallows/Anderson got the honors. Gallows and Anderson dressed as their Southpaw Regional Wrestling alter egos Tex Ferguson and Chadd 2 Badd, while Heath Slater and Rhyno went as Mr. and Mrs. Claus, for some reason. It was goofy, it was pointless, and it was entertaining. Just like wrestling should be. No question the best part of the match came after a way-too-long shot of Rhyno’s granny panties, when Cole commented "…yep, longest running episodic television show in history, folks."
- A week after voluntarily destroying his own guitar and gloating about it, Elias acted heartbroken that Jason Jordan stomped on another one. Why is this angle still happening?
- Pairing Drew Gulak with Enzo Amore continues to be lowkey genius. He should have lasted longer against Kalisto, though.
- The main event of the evening was technically Alexa Bliss vs. Mickie James III, wherein Alexa won a quick match suddenly with a shot to the head. Unfortunately, the match was overshadowed by the looming notion that Braun Strowman was coming after The Miz — and a crowd that had up until this match been pretty solid chanting "CM Punk."
This episode was more fun than it had any right to be, looking at the card on paper. Stephanie McMahon’s return, an eye-rolling development that turns the main story thread on Raw into the same McMahon squabble we’ve seen a thousand times before, was set to cast a pall over the rest of the show. Thankfully, and I suppose appropriately for a show taking place one day before Halloween, the dominance of WWE’s two resident monsters made a significant portion of the rest of the show feel like a really fun B-horror movie.