The Mean: Survivor Series 2004

The ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle believed that everything in life could be broken down into two extremes: excess and deficiency. He believed that if a person could find the medium or mean between the two extremes in all that they did in life, they would travel down the path to happiness and virtue. With pro wrestling fans, the two extremes are clear: the deficient “mark” enjoys watching wrestling more than anybody but has very little knowledge of anything not on TV, while the excessive “smart” knows every backstage dealing, but as a result can become highly bitter and cynical, losing their ability to enjoy the show. These two extremes view each wrestler differently, often disagreeing with each other. Each pay-per-view I look at both perspectives and then attempt to find “The Mean” between the two.

With TNA having their biggest week in history and a lot of people down on both the Raw and Smackdown brands of WWE, Survivor Series, the final “big four” event of 2004 for WWE and the last featuring the two brands on one show, quickly becomes a make or break event going into 2005.

When I was 8, Survivor Series 1990, back when it was still on Thanksgiving, was the first pay per view I ever ordered with my Dad, so the event has always had a sentimental meaning for me. I’m pumped for the eight man “classic” matches and the rest of the card is among the more solid and intriguing WWE has put on in some time; let’s get to it.

Match #1: Cruiserweight champion Spike Dudley d. Rey Misterio, Chavo Guererro and Billy Kidman in a Fatal Fourway (pinfall on Guererro via Kidman slingshot leg drop)

The Mark: You would think this would be the ideal choice for a hot opener, but the crowd just didn’t seem into it. If TNA were WCW I would say it was because their opener last week totally outclassed this one in terms of cruiserweight excitement (as did A.J. Styles-Petey Williams), but I honestly don’t think that many people watched Victory Crowd, definitely not many people in this crowd. I think a big problem is that Spike Dudley simply does nothing for the marks as champion and he’s totally lost his freshness as a heel. Misterio, who is normally always over, seemed to struggle here too, but then he is better off in one on one matches because anything else constricts his ability to work at his pace (one very few people can keep up with in a match with multiple participants). The storyline and guys the crowd was into here was Kidman and Guererro, which at least bodes well if WWE is willing to spotlight that feud more as it doesn’t need the title as a backdrop; Kidman teasing the Shooting Star Press drew the biggest pop of the match by far.

The Smart: This clicked here and there on a technical level, but I think smarts will write if off as a “same old, same old” cruiserweight elimination match. It also suffers when held up against the aforementioned TNA matches because the one thing they could have done with this many guys was a spotfest, and while all four guys in this match are more polished than the X Division guys, they can’t match spots or pace with them (maybe Misterio and Kidman could one on one). The internet crowd is also not a fan of the “we need to keep knocking all but two guys outside the ring” mentality that this match was a slave too. The guy who managed to hold everything together was Guererro, so hopefully he gets some praise, and Misterio definitely took some nice bumps in the latter portion; hot finish too.

The Mean: A pretty lukewarm opener and an indictment of the WWE Cruiserweight division. I know I keep coming back to the TNA comparisons, but it’s nearly impossible not to given that the match tried and failed to be last week’s gauntlet in many ways (tornado rules, “tower of doom” type spot, etc.). The one arena where TNA can actually challenge WWE is in this division, which makes it all the more imperative that WWE get their act together. Spike Dudley as champion is a cancer to the cruiserweight division; had this match been a three way between the other three guys or had somebody like Paul London or Shannon Moore been the fourth man, this match would have so much more exciting. WWE needs to put the focus on the extremely talented cruiserweights they do have and go out and scout the indies and internationally (if TNA can pull 22 guys out of nowhere, WWE should be able to find at least a dozen) and start putting out a quality product on Smackdown because the show needs it and the American wrestling audience is clearly hungry for it again.

-Heidenreich-Snitsky as the poor man’s Brock-Goldberg at Wrestlemania 21? I don’t know, that promo had a bit too much grunting and creepy eroticism for me”¦

Match #2: Intercontinental champion Shelton Benjamin d. Christian (pinfall via exploder suplex)

The Mark: The fact that it was Shelton Benjamin that woke the crowd up big time after they kind of trailed off during the opener is great news for him and WWE. Benjamin was incredibly over and it didn’t look to rattle him or really affect him in any way other than to make him smile; he is a total pro and has grown both into and beyond his role, and the crowd is acknowledging how at ease he looks in the ring. Christian did exactly what he needed to do here and exactly what he is best at: play the purest heel in the business. Not only did Christian get Benjamin over at every possible opportunity, the little things he did to keep the crowd into it were awesome; even during his restholds he was working his ass off and as a result this was one of those rare matches that was exciting from start to end. Excellent series of false finishes to conclude; the crowd ate this match up and that put the rest of the card in a great position with a very satisfied and pumped up audience to work with.

The Smart: Very little psychology in this match, but it wasn’t really needed. The match opened with sound and intense mat wrestling and played out with no noticeable miscues or errors. The IWC has to be singing Shelton Benjamin’s praises like never before after this because he is totally ready to hang with the big boys and looked like he’d been doing this for years tonight; he’s able to carry guys like Viscera and Tomko, but stick him in there with a pro like Christian and it’s really breathtaking. Speaking of Christian, professional is the perfect word to describe him here and I would think the smarts would appreciate the effort he put in here to give Benjamin the rub.

The Mean: Just a pleasure to watch two guys go out there and put on a match like this. They utilized every tool in a wrestler’s arsenal from mat wrestling to semi-high spots to even restholds and cheap finishes to tell a great story. The right guy went over, as Benjamin is going to be a huge star; I wouldn’t mind seeing this feud continue for a bit and see what they can do in other types of matches (2/3 falls, submission and even ladder).

-I miss the old Kurt Angle”¦and Eugene just needs to end”¦that was like the last even semi-funny thing they had left they could do with him.

Match #3: Eddie Guererro, John Cena, The Big Show & Rob Van Dam d. Kurt Angle, Carlito Caribbean Cool, Luther Reigns & Mark Jindrak in a Survivor Series elimination match (Order of Elimination: Carlito eliminated via countout, Angle pinfall on Van Dam via ropes-assisted rollup, Guererro pinfall on Jindrak via ropes-assisted rollup, Show pinfall on Reigns via chokeslam, Show pinfall on Angle via Guererro frog splash; Survivors: Guererro, Cena & Show)

The Mark: The crowd was insanely hot for this match at the start of this match as Big Show & RVD remain surprisingly over, Eddie is always over and the marks were absolutely insane for the return of John Cena. Then, they went about systematically killing the heat for this match. First, the Carlito running away nonsense; smarts understand it was necessary due to Carlito’s injury, but the marks just seemed confused and deflated. Next, Eddie Guererro ends up playing the face in peril for about ten minutes despite the fact that there are three other guys standing on the apron; the crowd just loved this (sarcasm). Lastly, two words: Mark Jindrak. Who the hell ever thought we’d see Mark Jindrak in this type of position on the card? Well, there was a reason nobody ever picked him as the stud of the Natural Born Thrillers, because whatever potential this match had left he absolutely annihilated with his restholds (again: three other guys to tag in! No need for restholds!). The crowd loved the beginning of this match and loved the end, but was totally thrown by the bizarre and unnecessary pacing of the middle portion; it also didn’t help that they threw out six characters the crowd really gets into (the entire face team and then Angle and Carlito) and then leave the two they don’t, Luther and especially Jindrak, in the majority of the match.

The Smart: Eddie Guererro gets the highest score here on the smart scale for doing his damndest to sell for the heels and somehow make this match interesting. Luther again showed the potential he’s been showing for months, but he needs to take another big step at some point. RVD was motivated, but didn’t get much time to show it off. Big Show was used sparingly, Cena even more so. Angle never really gets a chance to strut his stuff in these big tag matches, he’s much more a singles match guy. Jindrak was totally exposed as a guy who is too bland, too green, incredibly limited and not in the right condition physically or mentally to be working with guys this good when he’s hitting restholds left and right in an eight-man tag match.

The Mean: This was a weird, weird match; it was great to see Cena back and most of the guys worked really hard, but the flow was just bizarre. So many things threw this out of whack, from the Carlito segment to Jindrak’s endless restholds. Even when they eliminated RVD, the announcers had no idea whether he was out or not and then everybody just stood around for like a minute before they went into the rapid-fire elimination finish. This match had a lot of potential and plenty of fan support but ultimately went nowhere good.

Fun With Michael Cole
-Big Show was “raped of his humility” now? He’s lost the ability to feel humble?
-How unorthodox really is a move RVD does every match (the step over spinning heel kick)?
-Ok, Luther was stabbed, I get it, next”¦

Match #4: The Undertaker d. Heidenreich (pinfall via tombstone piledriver)

The Mark: The crowd didn’t care about Heidenreich from the moment he came out and nothing he or Undertaker did in the course of this match didn’t anything to change that. Heidenreich is green and clumsy, his offense and selling both show this, and the marks are not so foolish that they can’t see that. Much like in his matches with Bradshaw, Undertaker didn’t let Heidenreich dominate enough of the early portion of the match for his comeback later to mean anything; if you’re going to squash the guy, go for it, but when Undertaker spends the first part of the match with the advantage, the crowd knows the character well enough after fourteen years that they realize he’s going to win, so you’ve effectively killed the middle portion of the match. The match was so back and forth that the crowd had no chance to get behind Undertaker or boo Heidenreich and as a result they were clamoring for this match to end (there were palpable boos, and not the good kind, when Heidenreich grabbed the bottom rope after the Last Ride).

The Smart: Wow should IWC members who have been calling for The Undertaker’s blood and who love to complain in general have a field on this one, and nobody will fault them. Again, Heidenreich, while somewhat interesting as an abstract nutcase (though I’m pretty sure the poetry stuff killed him), has absolutely no clue how to either take the offensive or sell a move; the former is a lot of punching while talking to his hands, the latter is a backwards roll regardless of the move from Taker. For those smarts at least able to take solace in the sacred balance of the heel onslaught and the face comeback, there was nothing doing here, as the advantage shifted sloppily back and forth to the point where both guys needed the double knockout spot desperately as they were entirely out of breath. From a technical standpoint, this may very well have been the worst WWE match of the year.

The Mean: WWE screwed up anything they may have had with Heidenreich pretty early on, but whatever small shot he had left was torn to shreds with this awful match. The era of the crowd having the patience to sit through The Undertaker vanquishing the no staying power monster of the month is long over, but if you’re going to do it, at least make it quick and painless; this was anything but.

-I am so glad they hired Maria as an announcer; she always had that “she may not be the hottest one out there right now, but I know she’ll grow on me every week until she is” thing going during the Diva Search.

Match #5: Women’s champion Trish Stratus d. Lita (disqualification via use of foreign object)

The Mark: The amazing, incredible thing is after months of awful booking, no good matches since about Wrestlemania and after she stopped dressing provocatively, Lita remains incredibly over as the number one babyface in the Women’s division; that’s a testament to something, I don’t know what. Obviously the crowd hated this “match” as they really wanted to see these two wrestle and instead they got a two-minute brawl.

The Smart: No comment.

The Mean: This was a complete waste of pay-per-view time and definitely something they could have and should have done on Raw, but even after the match the crowd was incredibly hot for Lita and this storyline; if they milk it right, they could stretch this out until Wrestlemania.

Match #6: WWE champion John Bradshaw Layfield d. Booker T (pinfall via use of foreign object)

The Mark: Nowhere in wrestling does their currently exist a more interesting dichotomy than with John Bradshaw Layfield; were I still doing this column on individual wrestlers, he would be the first guy I’d tackle. To marks, JBL is probably the most convincing and thoroughly dislikable (in a good way) heel champion in years; he has done an excellent job in the last eight months of using mic skills we never knew he had to completely eradicate the memory of the old Bradshaw character and totally legitimize himself in the eyes of mark fans. The problems occur the minute he steps in the ring, where he remains incredibly limited, even from the viewpoint of a casual fan; he’s boring. On the other side of this match, it’s remarkable how quickly Booker T has gotten back over as a face after spending months as one of Smackdown’s top heels. This match was not a crowd pleaser as JBL’s brawling did not fit with Booker’s high impact style; Booker was not cut out to play the “little guy.” Beyond that, JBL has still done nothing to improve his endurance and was barely moving five minutes into the match; the crowd noticed and turned on them big time. The constant outside interference from Orlando Jones actually didn’t hurt the match much (and everybody loves Josh Matthews making the save), but the weak finish did. The crowd wanted Booker to win big time, and if WWE plays their cards right, that’s not a bad thing.

The Smart: Awful match as the styles clashed horribly and Booker was literally picking JBL up and physically carrying him from move to move even with all the rest time Orlando’s interference gave (and you better believe that’s what it was there for). Booker T really stepped up to the plate on this one, but JBL did not, and that brings us to the other part of the dichotomy: no matter how many marks JBL can convince that he’s legit on the mic, the smarts simply aren’t listening and he’s still the same Bradshaw who can’t work a match, is a dick backstage and belongs as a mid-card tag team wrestler at best.

The Mean: There are two thing to take away from this match: first and foremost is that if WWE does not put the title on Booker T at Armageddon, they are missing a golden opportunity to get probably their last mileage out of a guy who has deserved the belt for years. Second, and more interestingly, JBL should be the GM of Smackdown”¦seriously. Teddy Long is not working out and JBL is perfect for the part. He can’t wrestle, but he can talk with the best of them and heel GMs are always inherently more interesting than babyface ones. This is a chance for WWE to actually utilize JBL’s skills and the fact that the mark crowd sees him as a legitimate player without exposing his weaknesses and pissing off the smarts. JBL as Smackdown GM may be the best idea I’ve had in years (probably not).

Match #7: Randy Orton, Chris Benoit, Chris Jericho & Maven d. Triple H, Edge, Batista & Gene Snitsky in a Survivor Series elimination match (Order of Elimination: Edge pinfall on Benoit via HHH Pedigree, Jericho pinfall on Batista via running enzuiguri, disqualification on Snitsky via use of foreign object, HHH pinfall on Maven via Snitsky use of foreign object, Edge pinfall on Jericho via spear, Orton pinfall on Edge via RKO, Orton pinfall on HHH via RKO)

The Mark: At the start of this match nobody (especially the babyfaces) had the kind of heat the guys in the Smackdown match had at the beginning of their “old school” match, but by the end, the crowd was loving everything, which goes to show which was ultimately the superior match. When this match started out, the crowd was not into Orton, they weren’t even into Jericho and Benoit, the only guy they were really into was Edge, because despite being a heel he’s the most interesting and likeable character on Raw at the moment (ironic given that as a babyface he became so expendable). Orton did manage to win the crowd over, as he’s been doing more and more; granted just about every match is tailored to try and get him over more as a babyface, but he’s also putting in the effort. This was the first time the crowd got a glimpse of Gene Snitsky in the main event, and not surprisingly the first time they started to turn against him, as he stuck out like a sore thumb amongst some of the best workers on Raw; Snitsky is a nice guilty pleasure, but he doesn’t belong anywhere near the main event and might never. I’m glad they actually gave Maven a chance, because he’s talented enough that they should at least try something with him and the crowd dug him, so there was no point in pulling him from the match entirely. By the time the match got down to two on two (Y2J/Orton vs HHH/Edge), the crowd really got into the story being told and by the time the match ended, Orton had won them over completely.

The Smart: Chris Benoit will get his usual lion’s share of credit, and in this case, he deserves it. The match really got going and people got out of whatever funk they were in once Benoit came in, and while the crowd may not have noticed, more seasoned observers will. Chris Jericho also played face in peril very well, something Orton still needs to learn to do. Edge was brilliant and is so much more at home in his new character. Internet darling Batista didn’t get to do much, but he did get to demonstrate that he’s developing the ability to convey personality through little moves like punches and kicks; he’s getting better every day and should be ready to main event within a year. Maven didn’t do much, but he didn’t do anything wrong; the same can’t be said for Snitsky, who was totally exposed as not ready from prime time and might lose a little of the bizarre smart following he’s built up now that they’re being asked to take him seriously. Orton still has a long way to go, but he’s trying and he’s not letting anything intimidate him, both of which need to count for something; Triple H was Triple H.

The Mean: A good match that built on itself as it went and told a good story when all was said and done. At times it seemed like it was getting off track (like when it looked like an Orton comeback against HHH/Edge was far beyond the realm of realism) but it always righted itself. While the stipulations probably didn’t seem like a big deal going in, they’re going to make for an interesting month of television. This was a good showcase for the guys like Orton, Batista and Maven who need to step up now more than ever.

Final Notes
-All the video packages tonight were tighter than they’ve been in months.
-You know, even though I made fun of Michael Cole earlier, having the two announce teams on the same show only made it more painfully obvious how much better the Smackdown announce team is compared to the Raw team, which is fine since the in-ring product on Smackdown needs more sweetening than Raw; I’d honestly say my dream announce team right now would be Mike Tenay & Tazz.

Much like TNA last week, this was a pay per view that alternated rough spots and highlights; the difference is that the rough spots here were nowhere near as bad as on Victory Road and this promotion clearly has a direction they are headed in, as opposed to TNA. If the powers that be of WWE sit down and analyze this show as closely as I did, they’ll see that they have a lot working for them and a lot of young guys who are doing a good job, not to mention problems that are easy enough to spot and fix; I think by Wrestlemania WWE could easily be back at the top of their game.

In the mean time, thanks for reading.