With the recent announcement that Survivor Series will now be more storyline based and include the Wargames matches as part of the show, we have reached the end of an era. Survivor Series has gone through several forms and iterations since it’s inception in 1987. For the first 4 years it consisted only of the traditional 4 on 4 or 5 on 5 elimination matches, where the captains and teams were assembled at least somewhat based on storylines. In 1991 a World Title match was added to the card alongside the elimination matches, and from then there were varying numbers of elimination matches mixed with regular matches, title matches etc. But when Brand Split 2.0 went into effect in 2016 a full commitment to brand vs brand contests between RAW and Smackdown began to take form, being realized in 2017 and continuing on through 2021. As with all things WWE the results ranged from All Time Great to just bad, with the former being called on to make us forget the latter and usually succeeding. But now with this run having been completed we can take a look at it in total and address the good, the bad, and the ugly of it all. So here’s my take on the whole thing.
But before I get to that, here’s a few records:
- In Women’s Elimination matches, Raw is 5-0 vs Smackdown and 0-1 vs Smackdown and NXT
- For the Men’s Teams, Raw is 4-2, 4-1 vs Smackdown straight up and 0-1 vs Smackdown and NXT
- In the World vs Universal champ vs champ match, the Universal champ is 4-0
- In the IC vs US champ vs champ matches it’s all even between Raw and Smackdown, with the NXT North American Champ getting the win in the 2019 Triple Threat match
- In the Tag Team champ vs champ matches, Raw is 2-2 vs Smackdown straight up and 1-0 vs Smackdown and NXT
- And for the Women’s champ vs champ matches it’s, 2-2 for Raw vs Smackdown with the NXT Women’s Champion winning the triple threat
And some other informational tidbits:
- The Universal Champion in each brand vs brand match was either Brock Lesnar or Roman Reigns; the two men are also tied for the most main events with 2 apiece.
- The Usos were the representative in the tag team champ vs champ match 3 different times, the most of anyone, each representing Smackdown. The Bar and the New Day were second with two turns apiece both split between Raw and Smackdown.
- Charlotte Flair was in the most women’s champ vs champ matches with 3 berths; Becky Lynch was second with 2 and the numbers would have been flipped had Lynch not gotten injured in 2018 a week before the show.
- Shinsuke Nakamura has the most turns in the US/I-C champion matchup with 3, all from Smackdown.
- Of all the NXT entrants in the triple threat champ vs champ matches only Shayna Baszler has ever worked on the main roster.
- Sasha Banks has the most turns on the Women’s Elimination match team with 5, and is the only woman to appear on every show during this era.
- Seth Rollins and Kevin Owens have the most men’s elimination match team berths with 4, and Rollins is the only man to appear on every show during this era.
- On the men’s side Lesnar and Reigns each have the most wins in non-elimination matches with 3 apiece. For the women’s side, it’s a five way tie with one win apiece between Flair, Lynch, Banks, Baszler, and Ronda Rousey.
- Flair, Banks, and Baszler are the only women to have won both an elimination match and a champ vs champ match. Roman, Seth, and Bobby Lashley are the only men to have won both.
- Reigns has the best record of the men at 4-1. Nia Jax has it for the women at 4-0, all in elimination matches, while Banks has the best mixed record at 4-2 between elimination matches and champ vs champ matches.
- Bianca Belair and Baszler are the only women to compete for NXT, Raw, and Smackdown. No one on the men’s side has to date; Matt Riddle and Keith Lee have competed for NXT and RAW.
OK, so what do I think about the shows? Let’s go year by year and find out! For each one I have an overall grade, ratings for the individual matches (mine, not Dave Meltzer’s). For the ratings I stuck to the matches on the main show and not the preshow, but I do include the preshow in my overall assessment – to put it simple, a good preshow helps but a bad or so so one doesn’t factor in either way. I have never once downgraded any show because of the preshow matches, and I’m not starting here.
2016: Overall Grade – B+
- Women’s Elimination Match: 4
- I-C Title Match, Miz (c) vs Sami Zayn: 2.5
- Raw vs Smackdown Tag Team elimination match: 3
- Cruiserweight Title Match, Brian Kendrick (c) vs Kalisto: 2
- Men’s Elimination Match: 5
- Goldberg vs Brock Lesnar: 4
2016 started off and ended great. The Women’s elimination match was the best one of the Brand Split Era and was pretty great in it’s own right. The talent in that match was insane – all four Horsewomen plus five more future women’s champs and a former Diva’s champ in Alicia Fox made out the rosters here – and it was actually booked well unlike pretty much every future offering of it’s kind. The Men’s Elimination Match is in the running for best elimination match ever, it was that good. And the talent there – all three Shield members, AJ Styles, Bray Wyatt, Randy Orton, Braun Strowman, Chris Jericho, Kevin Owens and the Best in the World Shane McMahon – may be the best in any one of these matches ever. The match went almost an hour and was absolutely outstanding from start to finish. Then the show closed with the return of Goldberg after 12 years in one of the most memorable matches of all time, a shockingly quick victory over the then-unbeatable Brock Lesnar who had not been pinned in almost four years. The energy in the arena from Goldberg’s entrance to the final three count are unmatched for a professional wrestling show. The rest of the card was skippable. The 10-on-10 tag team match was fine, and the other two matches were OK (although booking I-C champ Miz from Smackdown vs Sami from RAW in a title match made no sense at all). You’re not missing anything if you pass on those three, but the bookends are must see.
- The Shield vs The New Day: 4
- Women’s Elimination Match: 3
- US Champion Baron Corbin vs I-C Champ The Miz: 2.5
- RAW Tag Champs The Bar vs Smackdown Champs the Usos: 4
- RAW Women’s Champion Bliss vs Smackdown Women’s Champion Flair: 4
- Universal Champ Lesnar vs World Champion Styles: 5
- Men’s Elimination Match: 3
This was the first full on brand vs brand version of the show, as every match was some kind of Raw vs Smackdown affair and was the debut of the champ vs champ format. Those matches would prove to be the best ones on the card – the tag champs and women’s champs had great matches while Styles and Lesnar gave us a match of the year candidate. The six-man faction dream match between the Shield and the New Day was a great one as well. As for the rest, the US vs I-C champion match was just ok. The women’s elimination match was mainly a showcase for the newly arrived Asuka and didn’t offer much to remember beyond Lynch’s surprising early elimination, which was supposed to be shocking but was instead just dumb, and the brief intra family skirmish between Nia Jax and Tamina. The men’s match was going fine until the last few minutes where it ended with somewhat of a thud when Shane McMahon was down 3 men to 1 and was beaten within a few minutes. To end the show with that, a year after the rousing finish with Lesnar and Goldberg a year earlier, was a choice. But even with that, getting four matches out of seven on a must watch list is a big win.
- Women’s Elimination Match: 2.5
- IC Champ Seth Rollins vs US Champ Shinsuke Nakamura: 3
- RAW tag champs Authors of Pain vs Smackdown tag champs The Bar: 1
- Cruiserweight Title Match: Buddy Murphy (c) vs Mustafa Ali: 3
- Men’s Elimination Match: 1.5
- RAW Women’s Champ Ronda Rousey vs Flair: 5
- Universal Champion Lesnar vs World Champion Daniel Bryan: 5
2018 was a strange year in many ways. The company was reeling from Roman Reigns reveal that he had a recurrence of his leukemia and had to go get treatment, and between that and the controversy over the Crown Jewel show in Saudi Arabia it was just not very fun at this point. The lone bright spot was Becky Lynch’s ascension, which was set to hit a big benchmark vs Ronda Rousey before she was injured just five days before the show and replaced by Charlotte in the champ vs champ match. This was a very bizarre and nonsensical show on many fronts. It had two all-time great matches in Charlotte vs Ronda and Daniel Bryan vs Brock. The IC vs US match and the cruiserweight title matches were good but forgettable. And the rest of the show was not very good. The women’s elimination match was devoid of any energy whatsoever and everyone looked like they were going through the motions. The tag champs match was just awful, highlighted by Authors of Pain manager Drake Maverick peeing on himself at the end of it. The men’s elimination match being an almost clean sweep made it worth asking if Vince was drunk that night. RAW winning every match on the main show all but confirmed it.
The last two matches saved it from being a total failure; you can literally skip everything else on the show and go right to Charlotte vs Ronda, which had the energy and was worked as if it were a shoot fight for the heavyweight championship of the world. Having short notice to prepare they just went out there and beat the crap out of each other in very convincing fashion, the likes of which you don’t see very often. DQ finish aside it’s one of the best matches ever. Bryan vs Lesnar in the main event was a master class in audience manipulation. A lot of us watching were afraid for Bryan in that the idea of a guy with a concussion history like his taking a bunch of German suplexes was a downright scary. And they played off of that in the first half of the match as Lesnar began what looked like a summary execution live on pay per view, which made Bryan’s rally in the second half that much sweeter before it ended the way we all knew it would. Both men displayed every skill in their arsenal that night and gave us one for the ages. If you’re curious then by all means check out Rollins vs Nakamua and Murphy vs Ali; both were good matches even though nobody really cared about them. But if not then this is pretty much a two match show.
- Women’s Elimination Match: 2.5
- US Champ AJ Styles vs I-C Champ Nakamura vs NXT North American Champ Roddy Strong: 3.5
- NXT Championship Match, Adam Cole (c) vs Pete Dunne: 3.5
- Universal Title Match, Bray Wyatt (c) vs Daniel Bryan: 2.5
- Men’s Elimination Match: 5
- World Title Match, Brock Lesnar (c) vs Rey Mysterio, Jr: 4
- RAW Women’s Champion Lynch vs Smackdown Women’s Champ Bayley vs NXT Women’s Champ Shayna Baszler: 2.5
This was the year that the NXT experiment was in full effect. To give it a boost as a third brand and to put some heft behind it’s launch on live television NXT was brought in as a third competitor the show this year. 2019 was also where NXT peaked from a talent standpoint from top to bottom, and they boasted a roster that could hang with RAW or Smackdown on any given night. Booking-wise the show was set up to convince anyone who didn’t watch it already of NXT’s equal footing with the Red and Blue Brands, as they won the competition handily picking up wins in four of the seven brand vs brand vs brand matches that night, and in three of four that were on the main show. For the first time the preshow matches were actually worth your trouble, particularly the cruiserweight title match and the triple threat tag team champions match. When you add them in this becomes a great show top to bottom with the only drawback being that it was long as hell. The three way men’s elimination match was one of the best ever and Rey’s challenge to Lesnar was a great sports entertainment spectacle. The closing sequence between Reigns and Keith Lee was outstanding and now is part of one of the biggest ‘what ifs?’ in recent memory. The US/IC/NA champions match was very good but lacked any real heat or energy to it. Cole’s title defense against Dunne, depending on your pleasure, was anywhere from very good to just ok. I thought it was very good but a bit indie-riffic with for my tastes. Bryan’s match with Wyatt was….fine, not as bad as some feared it would be but nothing to write home about.
The women’s side was done a tremendous disservice, though. The elimination match was a poorly booked affair that wasted all the talent in the ring. NXT actually sported the best team of the three, but four of them had just worked the Wargames match the night before and were kept on light duty here. And in kayfabe those four women going from trying to kill each other to cooperating as if nothing was wrong was just weird. Yes the weeks of brand solidarity that took place on RAW and Smackdown every year were silly but you didn’t have blood feuds morphing into totally friendly cooperation in less than 24 hours, either. The feint at the NXT team leaving the match was just strange as was Asuka walking out her team halfway through. And even though they won the match the NXT women’s team didn’t get any kind of shine that would endear them to anyone who wasn’t already watching them on their own show. Then there was the main event. A well meaning attempt at boosting the women’s division went awry as it was placed at the end of a long show taking place on the third night of a long wrestling weekend, and had to follow a five star men’s elimination match and a crowd popping spectacle from Lesnar and Mysterio. And to boot the match itself was well worked but not particularly exciting, which resulted in an unfriendly crowd response, and had a flat finish when Baszler choked out Bayley to win. The least known participant winning to close out the show was not a great move in hindsight, and Lynch’s reprisal of Hulk Hogan’s 1987 post match attack on the winner didn’t do anything to change the mood while undercutting whatever was to be gained from Baszler winning the match. In hindsight this was a pretty accurate foreshadowing of how Baszler would be treated on the main roster.
So I guess you say this was a great show for the men, but a not so great one for the women. In fact I’d give the Men’s side an A and the Women’s side a C at best, which is no fault of theirs but is directed entirely at the guy who booked the show. That adds to a B overall. Can’t give a show an A when it shafts the women’s side like they did here.
- Men’s Elimination Match: 1
- RAW Tag Champs New Day vs Smackdown Tag Champs the Street Profits: 4
- US Champ Bobby Lashley vs IC Champ Zayn: 2.5
- RAW Women’s Champ Asuka vs Smackdown Women’s Champion Sasha Banks: 4
- Women’s Elimination Match: 1
- Universal Champion Reigns vs World Champion Drew McIntyre: 4
This show was a victim of the Thunderdome Era, during which one had to be extraordinary in one’s efforts to overcome the very weird and one note remote crowd reactions, and was drawn down even further with some lousy booking. The 3 brand format from 2019 was scrapped after one year, thanks in no small part to the inability of the NXT roster to stay away from each other long enough to prevent COVID outbreaks. Going from that raucous atmosphere in 2019 to the antiseptic Thunderdome was a major let down on its own, but it also didn’t help that little was done to build the Brand vs Brand matchups for the show outside of a sit down between Reigns and McIntyre. The tag team champions match had some juice to it because of the historical nature of the contest, but Sasha vs Asuka and Roman vs Drew fell into that trap of being excellently worked matches that were quickly forgotten afterwards. The rest of the show ranged from fine (Lashley vs Zayn) to lousy (the Elimination matches). The men’s match being a 4-1 near sweep was a real downer, and the women’s match was booked as Vince was playing a prank on us. Lana being the sole survivor without ever getting in the ring was a hell of a rib if you find that kind of thing funny. This show is utterly skippable, even with half of it being really well worked. Roman vs Drew and Sasha vs Asuka have both happened under more favorable circumstances that made them more enjoyable; the New Day vs Street Profits, since this was their first big meeting, is the only match that you just have to watch this for so skip to that and then skip the rest. Like a lot of the Thunderdome shows this wasn’t difficult to watch per se but it was an experience you’d rather not go back to.
- Smackdown Women’s Champ Flair vs RAW Women’s Champ Lynch: 5
- Men’s Elimination Match: 4
- Battle Royal: 2
- RAW tag champs RKBro vs Smackdown tag champs the Usos: 4
- Women’s Elimination Match: 2
- Universal Champion Reigns vs World Champion Big E: 4
The final show in the bunch coincided with the 25th anniversary of the Rock’s debut, and was overshadowed by it a bit as a lot of the buzz was about whether or not he’d make an appearance of some kind. Despite the inclusion of several video packages celebrating his career and a tie in with his recently released film Red Notice, Dwayne was not there thus rendering any distraction from the show waiting for him to be worthless. The people who were too focused on that missed out on some really great stuff, too. The opener between Charlotte and Becky, fueled by rumors of backstage heat that were played up for maximum effect, had a level of intensity that isn’t matched very often. However much of the speculation is real, made up, or exaggerated it made the difference in turning great ring work into a great match. As for the rest……first the good news. The Mens’ elimination match was a huge step up from the year before. The final champ vs champ match, the main event between Reigns and Big E was very good, and was a great showcase for Big E to show he could run with the top players on a big stage. Going in there didn’t feel like there was much suspense in the outcome but for a few seconds towards the they did give a glimmer of hope for anyone not rooting for Reigns that night. And the tag team brand vs brand match delivered as expected.
Now the bad news. The battle royal was fine but was obviously booked as an in show pizza commercial more than anything else. The women’s elimination match was another one in the yikes column. Pulling Naomi from the Smackdown team a few weeks prior was dumb, storyline or not, leaving the Smackdown roster with one less person to get the crowd going. Having Banks eliminated by getting counted out after her teammates turned on her was just stupid, and stacking the deck against Bianca Belair just so she could run through three people in under two minutes wasn’t great, either. Having a 3 on 1 finish where the 3 are nowhere the level as the 1 is as bad a job of telegraphing the finish as you can do. And on top of that that match was very poorly paced, going from one elimination in the first 13 minutes to 8 over the last 10, as if they took too long on the front end then were told to wrap it up so we could move on. For the third year in a row the women’s elimination match was treated as if it was a joke and not something important, which stinks. That notwithstanding the good on this show outweighed the bad by a pretty wide margin. If you were more focused on Dwayne showing up than what happened in the ring that’s a you problem.
So that’s it! Six years of good times, bad times, and a lot of strange stuff. It’s very weird for there to be no elimination matches this year, maybe for the first time ever? (The research department will get back to you later on that one). As for this era of the show, we got several matches and moments that should go down in WWE history so I’d call it a win overall. Had it run its course? Sure. The champ vs champ matches went from a really cool idea to ‘ok, how can we have a winner without making the loser look less than equal?’, and the elimination matches had too often devolved into wacky booking that looked like a rib on the audience. But through it all, the great performances we got along the way did manage to make up for some of that. And now, it’s on to the Wargames Era of Survivor Series which will have its day and then maybe we’ll see some kind of a return to what was. And now to close things out here is my Ultimate Brand Warfare Survivor Series Playlist, my picks for the best of the best from this era. There are other matches worth watching but all means start with these:
- 2016 Men’s and Women’s Elimination Matches
- Brock Lesnar vs Goldberg, 2016
- The Shield vs The New Day, 2017
- The Bar vs The Usos, 2017
- Alexa Bliss vs Charlotte Flair, 2017
- Lesnar vs AJ Styles, 2017
- Ronda Rousey vs Charlotte, 2018
- Lesnar vs Daniel Bryan, 2018
- 2019 Men’s Elimination Match
- Lesnar vs Rey Mysterio, 2019
- The New Day vs The Street Profits, 2020
- Becky Lynch vs Charlotte, 2021
- Men’s Elimination Match, 2021
- Reigns vs Big E, 2021