Raise your hand if you’re excited for a battle to determine “brand supremacy” this Sunday. No one? Well, too bad. Because in this age of siloed prime-time rosters and WWE Network schedules overstuffed with live events here and abroad (boo, Crown Jewel), Survivor Series has been watered down to a glorified intramural showcasing Raw and SmackDown’s brightest talents with very little at stake. Sure, there are still a few token Davis Cup–like five-on-fives to appease the nostalgia gods, and the champion-vs.-champion matches look good on paper, even if that paper comes with tiny type that promises nothing of significance will happen. But this once-hallowed pay-per-view, having originated in 1987, can’t hold a candle to consensus enthusiasm for Money in the Bank or Hell in a Cell.
Thanks to an untimely injury and the general disarray brought about by the bad timing (and bad optics) of Crown Jewel, the Survivor Series card was in absolute disarray up until SmackDown’s final minutes. But nevertheless, here’s a blow-by-blow of Sunday’s menu, with some objectively reasonable analysis and, as always, utterly unreliable predictions.
Universal Champion Brock Lesnar vs. WWE Champion Daniel Bryan
To review: Brock and former WWE champ AJ Styles were set for a “dream match” (or Dream Match Part 2, since they fought at last year’s event too), while Bryan was doing some light comedy riffing as one of the co-captains of Team SmackDown with the Miz. Then some combination of Paul Heyman stirring the pot, Styles’s big talk and Bryan’s famously thin skin getting the better of him led to a Tuesday-night melee between Bryan and Styles; Bryan was summarily booted from Team SmackDown but granted a title shot that very night; and finally, Bryan fortified his relevance by flipping the heel switch and going full Nakamura with a low blow to set up the win. (At least he and wife Brie Bella are on the same wicked wavelength now.) Bryan’s your new WWE champ, and heads into Sunday’s main event with some unexpected momentum. All due respect to Styles, the real dream match is a go for Sunday, only Bryan’s no underdog babyface, and Heyman might regret having unleashed his inner beast. Unless, that is, Paul E. has just recruited his singular SmackDown client. Curtis Axel, who?
Winner: No Contest (Seriously)
Raw Women’s Champion Ronda Rousey vs. Charlotte Flair
To review: For a few weeks, Raw women’s titleholder Ronda Rousey and SmackDown champ Becky Lynch traded barbs about who was more of a pure athlete versus a tough-talking entertainer (you could be excused for mistaking who accused whom of what), then Becky led an invasion of Raw and got her face broken by Nia Jax (for real). She became an instant legend in the process but also a scratch—Becky was ultimately deemed medically unable to perform on Sunday due to a concussion and what WWE announcers referred to as a “broken face.” (For the record, wrestling is better for having concussion protocols in place, unfortunate as her absence from this match is.) And then the man ultimately picked her mortal female fremesis (that would be friend + nemesis), Charlotte, to replace her before the two hugged it out. If only that weren’t the tip of the iceberg of 11th-hour chaos leading up to Survivor Series. (More on that in the next section.) Rousey was undercut by Lynch’s emergence into women’s wrestling’s supernova, but she’s still arguably the division’s most bankable star and has more than acquitted herself (no surprise) as a quick combat study and more at-ease mudslinger. Sunday will be a good measure of how she performs on short notice—and maybe a preview of things to come. This won’t be the last time these two superstars face off.
Winner: Ronda Rousey
Men’s Five-on-Five Traditional Survivor Series Elimination Match: Team Raw (Braun Strowman, Dolph Ziggler, Drew McIntyre, Finn Bálor, and Bobby Lashley) vs. Team SmackDown (Jeff Hardy, Shane McMahon, Rey Mysterio, the Miz, and Samoa Joe)
It’s unclear who asked Shane McMahon to not only insinuate himself so essentially into last month’s Crown Jewel World Cup tourney, but also win (winking nod to the notion of Crown Princes aside). And now the traditional Survivor Series match (i.e. the one time of year we get the thrill of strange bedfellows mixing it up) has sacrificed a precious slot to the authoritarian gods. Plus, with Daniel Bryan off defending his dubiously won WWE championship, any hope of tensions flaring back up between Bryan and Shane have been promptly extinguished. (And so much for the amusing love/hate banter between Miz and Bryan.) On the Raw side, Bálor’s positioning as the odd good guy out couldn’t be more apropos, but something tells me he could be the sole survivor for his squad, given Bobby Lashley’s reinvention as a narcissist (and someone with whom Elias has a motive for vengeance) and Strowman/Ziggler/McIntyre’s track record of diminishing returns as an alliance. Though if the real takeaway is that Shane’s on his way to coming full circle as an entitled wunderkind brat, we may see Stephanie’s kid brother savoring the spoils of success yet again.
Winners: Team SmackDown
Women’s Five-on-Five Traditional Survivor Series Elimination Match: Team Raw (Mickie James, Ruby Riott, Nia Jax, Tamina, and Natalya) vs. Team SmackDown (Carmella, Naomi, Asuka, Sonya Deville, and a partner to be named)
Tamina and Nia could easily anchor a mighty female faction or—gasp—tag division, but this has the makings of a thankless task, with their size and objective indomitability a smokescreen obscuring the likelihood of who will be left standing. It would make a nice story if Natalya could lash out at Ruby Riott for disgracing her dad’s legacy and score a win for Raw, but her and Ruby’s story is still being written. After being tossed out of Evolution’s battle royale without fanfare, this feels like a chance to put Asuka back front and center and in title contention where she belongs.
Winners: Team SmackDown
Five-on-Five Tag Team Traditional Survivor Series Elimination Match: Team Raw (Bobby Roode and Chad Gable, the Revival, the B-Team, the Ascension, and Lucha House Party) vs. Team SmackDown (New Day, the Usos, Sanity, Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson, and the Colóns)
Begrudged respect can get pretty old, and the good sportsmanship–fest going on between New Day and Jimmy and Jey has really sanded the edges off the Usos’ hard-fought credibility as street-smart enforcers. (Let alone how Sanity’s eager volunteerism boggles the mind.) Alas, what good would an implosion between the factions—and subsequent rehashing of their past grievances—actually accomplish? (Plus, who else would make pancakes for the Uso Penitentiary?) At least all three New Day principals can compete now that the math lines up with Lucha House Party livening up Raw’s decidedly dire assembly. And even with the Bludgeon Brothers sidelined and Primo and Epico dusted off to fill a slot, the SmackDown tag division’s superiority over its Monday counterpart’s mess hall of misfits is stark. There’s absolutely no logical reason they shouldn’t win. And you know what that means ...
Winners: Team Raw
Cruiserweight Champion Buddy Murphy vs. Mustafa Ali
Now that we’re clear of Cedric Alexander’s year-plus reign, 205 Live is free to play a bit of hot potato with its cruiserweight title. Murphy (or, if you’d rather, the future Mr. Alexa Bliss) is easy to hate, a quality that transcends championship bona fides, while Ali (the apparent inheritor of Seth Rollins’s wardrobe hand-me-downs) has emerged as nearly impossible not to root for. (The climax of his falls-anywhere match with Hideo Itami is a finish-of-the-year candidate.) All he needs now is the feel-good adoration of an approving Staples Center crowd. Plus, Angelino sports fans could use a lift (ouch).
Winner: Mustafa Ali
Intercontinental Champion Seth Rollins vs. United States Champion Shinsuke Nakamura
In the grand tradition of Ultimate Warrior and newly reinstated ambassador Hulk Hogan circa WrestleMania VI, this could and should have been a bout in which both titles were put on the line. Neither belt is specific to either brand, and an all-or-nothing stipulation would have heightened the night’s drama. Alas, we’ll likely have to wait however many perfunctory minutes before Dean Ambrose finally interrupts the proceedings and comes face-to-face again with his former Shield buddy Seth to put their feud into nuclear mode. The question is whether that will happen before or after Shinsuke drives his knee into Rollins’s punim. If the answer is “after” on account of Ambrose interference, we’d all be left musing, “Huh, that would have been a lot more meaningful if it had cost Rollins his gold.” By hook, crook, or DQ, it’s hard not to foresee a victory for the Architect and one more wasted work of art for Nakamura.
Winner: Seth Rollins
Raw Tag Team Champions AOP vs. SmackDown Tag Team Champions the Bar
Ah, now here’s some novelty, as the two heel heads of their show’s tag division beat the crap out of each other for 15 minutes (or, probably, less). AOP are getting the push they deserve (which, it has to be said, feels utterly incidental to Drake Maverick wedging between them as a mouthpiece/hanger-on), so they should look impressive in a win. Though if Sheamus and Cesaro—somehow now standard-bearers for tag supremacy and longevity—prevail, it would only underscore the way Raw’s tandem ranks have been indiscriminately jostled around like loose change in 2018.