WWE Survivor Series 2018 will revolve around a "battle of the brands" between Raw and SmackDown, headlined by blockbuster matches pitting Brock Lesnar against Daniel Bryan, Charlotte Flair vs. Ronda Rousey and Seth Rollins going one-on-one with Shinsuke Nakamura.
The previous two Survivor Series events also focused mostly on the blue brand taking on the red brand, and the results were a mixed bag. While Survivor Series 2017 did lead to blockbuster dream matches like The Shield vs. The New Day and the first-ever AJ Styles vs. Lesnar bout, WWE tried to hype up the event as a big deal only for the show to ultimately have very little in the way of long-term ramifications. This year, the same problem has plagued WWE, which has had less than stellar viewership for Raw and SmackDown over the last several weeks, at least in part because, due to Crown Jewel and Evolution, there hasn't been much time to build to Survivor Series.
WWE, however, was forced to make a series of creative audibles this week, with Becky Lynch's injury forcing WWE to scrap her dream match with Rousey and give us a Flair vs. Rousey dream match instead while Bryan's shocking heel turn threw everyone for a loop on the blue brand. The next step in Shane McMahon's ongoing angle, what role part-time stars like Rey Mysterio might play and who will stand tall as soul survivors for their squad are just a few more important stories to keep an eye on at Survivor Series, as these narratives could play a key role in determining what happens at Royal Rumble and during WrestleMania season.
But after WWE made a series of questionable creative calls at Crown Jewel, including Braun Strowman's loss to Lesnar and Samoa Joe quickly being defeated yet again, the company needs to avoid similar mistakes inside the Staples Center. Here are five bad booking decisions WWE needs to steer clear of this Sunday at Survivor Series.
Not Putting Something At Stake In The Raw Vs. SmackDown Matches
In each of the past two years, the WWE Network subscriber count has noticeably dropped in the fourth quarter, which, of course, features a supposed "Big Four" show in Survivor Series that has revolved around a "battle of the brands."
This year, WWE is once again relying on the Raw vs. SmackDown concept that is certainly resulting in a few dream matches, like Rousey vs. Flair and Bryan vs. Lesnar, but the outcomes of those bouts ultimately mean nothing if there is, well, nothing at stake for the winners and/or losers of the bouts. In 2017, WWE tried to stress the idea that the red and blue brand were mortal enemies, with Raw falling "under siege" by SmackDown (and vice versa), and that the outcomes of the respective inter-brand matches at Survivor Series would have long-term ramifications on both brands.
That ultimately turned out to be a complete farce. The only thing of substance at stake was Kurt Angle's job as Raw General Manager, but that was a tired storyline that resulted in no changes for Raw because Team Raw's men's squad wound up beating Team SmackDown anyway. In a sense, all of the show's biggest matches, like Styles vs. Lesnar and The Shield vs. The New Day, ultimately meant nothing because they received very little build and were quickly forgotten about once Survivor Series was in the rearview mirror.
The hope is that this will change in 2018 and that WWE will make some last minute changes to put something at stake in all of the Raw vs. SmackDown matches, whether that be a title shot, a better spot in the Royal Rumble (like WWE recently did with the Mixed Match Challenge) or something similar. If not, fans have very little reason to tune into the WWE Network for a pay-per-view that, much like Super Show-Down or Greatest Royal Rumble, could prove to be nothing more than a glorified house show, especially if the only thing on the line is Strowman's "devil's deal" with Stephanie McMahon.
Failing To Use The 5-On-5 Matches To Elevate A Rising Star
Last year's Survivor Series featured two 5-on-5 matches, one for the men's division and one for the women's, and the booking was a mixed bag as Asuka was the soul survivor for Team Raw while Strowman and Triple H also stood tall for the red brand.
Asuka's victory was undoubtedly the right call at the time (even though the long-term follow-up to it, or lack thereof, never panned out), as was Strowman's. But Triple H winning? That was a prime example of everything that's wrong with WWE and why the company has had such a difficult time creating new stars. WWE Hall of Famer Kevin Nash recently said that "no one cares" about WWE's "young guys," and even though that's obviously a gross over-exaggeration, there is some truth to that statement in that WWE does portray its part-time and older stars to be better and more important than its full-time ones.
In 2018, that needs to change, and Survivor Series is the ideal time to make it happen. The women's 5-on-5 match features a slew of talented female stars, like Ruby Riott and Sonya Deville, who could really use the boost that would be created by emerging from their bout as a soul survivor. Likewise, the same is true for the men's tag team and singles matches, when stars such as Strowman, The Miz, Finn Balor and Drew McIntyre would benefit in a major way from winning a star-studded tag team bout that features a ton of stars who don't necessarily need the win.
WWE wants to create new stars? That's what the 5-on-5 bouts she be used for rather than being a showcase of legends from the past like Crown Jewel and Super Show-Down were. That means that stars like Bobby Lashley, Shane McMahon or Jeff Hardy don't need to be soul survivors. Rather, anyone whose character would improve greatly because of it should win their respective matches, and that means stars like Strowman and McIntyre are the best candidates for the job.
Charlotte Flair Loses Clean To Ronda Rousey
WWE has inadvertently caught lightning with a bottle in Becky Lynch, who is hands down the most popular superstar in the company right now and is on the verge of solidifying herself as an all-time great.
Of course, Lynch hit a huge roadblock in route to Survivor Series, when her highly anticipated dream match against Ronda Rousey was scrapped due to a concussion, a potential blessing in disguise that could either do wonders for her career or her halt all of the momentum she's built up in the blink of an eye. Ideally, Lynch, whose organic babyface rise (despite WWE initially trying to force her as a heel) has been a real sight to see, would have defeated Rousey because the entire purpose of Rousey's dominant run is to "give the rub" to whatever star ultimately beats her. WWE, however, now has to reverse course and use Rousey's replacement match with Charlotte Flair to continue her stellar feud with Lynch.
While there may be worse things for Flair than losing to an accomplished star like Rousey, Survivor Series, in no way, shape or form, should result in a clean loss for the seven-time women's champion. With Rousey vs. Lynch reportedly now in the running to main event WrestleMania 35 and recent rumors speculating that original plans had Flair helping Lynch beat Rousey at Survivor Series to set up a battle between WWE's two sets of Four Horsewomen, WWE's best bet is to book a similar finish, only with Flair and Lynch switching roles.
Not only would that protect Flair and also keep Lynch in the spotlight where she belongs, but it could potentially set up that WrestleMania 35 dream match between Lynch and Rousey that fans are now begging to see while also planting the seeds for an epic feud between Rousey's Four Horeswomen and WWE's.
Burying Talent With Rushed And/Or Early Eliminations
Last year's Survivor Series was a showcase of what not to do when booking a 5-on-5 elimination match.
In the men's bout, the first two stars eliminated were Shinsuke Nakamura and Bobby Roode, SmackDown's two newest and most high-profile NXT call-ups. The third superstar eliminated was Samoa Joe, who had only been on the main roster longer than, you guessed it, Nakamura and Roode. The last three stars to be eliminated from the match were all part-timers (Randy Orton, Kurt Angle and Shane McMahon), while Triple H was one of two soul Survivor Series for Team Raw.
The women's match wasn't booked much better. The first two stars eliminated were Becky Lynch (who lasted just two minutes) and Bayley (who lasted only five), while the three oldest competitors in the bout (Natalya, Tamina Snuka and Asuka) lasted the longest. Asuka emerged as the soul survivor for Team Raw, and having her win for her team was undoubtedly the right call at the time. But especially in the women's match, WWE made a bad habit out of rushing eliminations or eliminating rising superstars too early in order to make the bouts all about the company's part-timers.
When established names like Orton, Angle and McMahon are dominating the bout for the men and Natalya and Tamina are doing the same for the women, it leaves a sour taste in the mouths of their supporters. Thus, if stars who deserved to be pushed are going to get eliminated in rushed fashion and/or too early, WWE needs to go out of its way to protect those stars and give them a chance to shine. After all, Bayley still hasn't recovered from that poor booking and lackluster follow-up at Survivor Series 2017 while Lynch took a backseat for much of 2018 after her early elimination and names like Roode, Joe and Nakamura have yet to win a world title since then when many thought they would by now.
Perception is reality, and if WWE's rising stars are perceived to be inferior at Survivor Series, that will become a reality.
Brock Lesnar Squashes Daniel Bryan
According to the Wrestling Observer (h/t Wrestling Inc), there was, in WWE's mind, good reasoning behind Brock Lesnar squashing Braun Strowman in just three minutes at Crown Jewel: "The idea was not to make it look like Strowman was squashed, but rather that he survived multiple F5s."
That, however, was some very faulty logic. Despite it taking outside interference from Baron Corbin for Strowman to lose to Lesnar, "The Monster Among Men" still came out of that bout looking much worse than when he entered it, which is really saying something. WWE has made a slew of mistakes when it comes to booking Strowman in 2018, like its failure to give him a substantial WrestleMania 34 storyline or its decision to turn him heel after SummerSlam, but his lopsided loss to Lesnar at Crown Jewel takes the cake as the most bizarre booking decision for Strowman this year.
Now, WWE finds itself in a similar situation with Lesnar vs. Daniel Bryan, where the newly heel WWE Champion has no business losing to Lesnar, but probably will. Lesnar is the clear betting favorite to win this match, and especially given that it's a non-title affair, it would be downright shocking to see Lesnar lose that knowing that he has signed a new deal with WWE that will see him wrestle at least one more bout as Universal Champion and will last through WrestleMania 35. If anything, WWE will probably do what it typically does and go out of its way to make Lesnar look as dominant as ever at Survivor Series, which doesn't bode well for Bryan and would be a mistake given that Bryan is in the early stages of a very intriguing run as the heel WWE Champion.
Bryan may not necessarily "need" a win over Lesnar, but a lopsided loss will do more harm than good to Bryan, SmackDown and the prestige of the WWE Championship.