By Chuck Carroll
Up until Tuesday night at 8 o’clock, the card for Survivor Series wasn’t much to write home about. Of the “big four” pay-per-views of the year, this one felt a little overlooked. Aside from Becky Lynch clashing with Ronda Rousey, nothing else on the card really stood out.
But the most curious things happened during Tuesday’s SmackDown. Lynch announced that she was not medically cleared to wrestle Sunday after sustaining a broken nose and concussion after taking an errant right hand from Nia Jax at the end of Monday’s edition of RAW. Instead, Charlotte Flair was tapped to replace her, to set up a showdown that had been long-rumored for next year’s WrestleMania.
Then, we were stunned to witness Daniel Bryan turn heel and defeat AJ Styles to end the phenomenal one’s 371-day reign as WWE Champion. In some regard, the dark turn and upset win were even more surprising than his iconic victory at WrestleMania XXX.
Now, it will be the newly anointed heel who will clash with Brock Lesnar in Los Angeles on Sunday.
In the span of just two hours, WWE managed to turn a ho-hum show into a can’t miss event worthy of being one of the top events of the year. Well played, creative. Well played.
The night, of course, is built around those two matches, but there are still six other bouts on the card pitting RAW and SmackDown talents head-to-head as they fight for brand supremacy. And because this will be a six-hour saga, don’t expect to see anyone rush through the traditional Survivor Series matches.
In the spirit of head-to-head competition, I am bringing fellow wrestling journalists Scott Fishman and Aaron Oster back to make picks once again. Bragging rights (but not much else) are on the line.
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Universal Champion Brock Lesnar vs. WWE Champion Daniel Bryan
Chuck: This one is actually really difficult to pick, as you have heel versus heel. It would be detrimental for either guy to take a loss right now, but if this one doesn’t end in a disqualification, my money is on Daniel Bryan taking the fall. With Roman Reigns sidelined, Lesnar is again WWE’s top guy and needs to stay as strong as possible. Especially given that he may (or may not) wind up back in UFC before WrestleMania. Pick: Brock Lesnar
Aaron: Another match that shouldn’t be happening without any build, but here we are. The heel-heel dynamics in play are going to be fascinating. How do you script this match without making Daniel Bryan the plucky underdog? AJ Styles isn’t on the card, he has to be involved here, right? If he gets involved and the match is actually pretty good, doesn’t that draw ire from the crowd? It’s a truly messy situation. Brock Lesnar isn’t losing to Daniel Bryan, though Bryan cheating to win would certainly help get him over as a heel. Pick: Brock Lesnar
Scott: I’m going out on a limb here, but I can see some underhanded tactic costing Brock Lesnar in this situation. It’s a bizarre match to begin with, considering it was also finalized days before. Bryan dethroned AJ Styles after his more than a yearlong title reign. I would hope Bryan’s early momentum isn’t stopped by the “Beast Incarnate.” Perhaps Shane McMahon plays a role in this outcome? Pick: Daniel Bryan
RAW Women’s Champion Ronda Rousey vs. Charlotte Flair
Chuck: It’s a shame that this WrestleMania main-event-worthy match is being slapped together in a matter of days. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still expecting a heck of a bout, but an actual build over time would add so much more to it. And no, I’m not concerned about Rousey’s performance in this one. Yes, she’s been able to rehearse ad nauseam for her previous matches, but she’s been in the ring long enough now to “get it” well enough, and she’s a natural athlete. Sit back and enjoy this one. As for who wins? Rousey does. It sets up Becky Lynch and Charlotte to pick up right where they left off. Becky will get mad that Charlotte lost, and their “hugging it out” on Tuesday will be long forgotten. Pick: Ronda Rousey
Aaron: I’m still shocked this match is happening. However, the premise of the match doesn’t change. Ronda Rousey isn’t losing this match, especially after suffering the beat-down on RAW . The only question becomes does she win or does this go to a no-contest. You have to think Nia Jax will get involved in this one. However, I’ll say Rousey wins, though not without a lot of shenanigans. Pick: Ronda Rousey
Scott: Considering the lack of build and fact this match wasn’t even going to happen just a few days ago, I don’t see WWE having Rousey lose to Charlotte. The way Charlotte has been booked in recent months wouldn’t really put her in a good position to win here. I can also see some appearance from Becky Lynch. Perhaps WWE will pull the trigger when It comes to a battle of the Four Horsewomen factions. There is the backstory already established with Lynch making up with Flair. Could it also end in a double disqualification? WrestleMania in many ways has come early with this showdown. Pick: Ronda Rousey
Intercontinental Champion Seth Rollins vs. United States Champion Shinsuke Nakamura
Chuck: This is another great match with no build. Sensing a theme? The storyline here isn’t so much Rollins versus Nakamura as it is Rollins and Dean Ambrose. Ambrose should wind up costing Rollins the match here and thus continue the feud between the former brothers of The Shield. Pick: Shinsuke Nakamura
Aaron: I’m just realizing now how WCW-like this PPV could get. With so many exhibition matches, it doesn’t matter who wins, and the best way to progress storylines is to get people involved. In this case, once again it’s glaring that Dean Ambrose is not on the card in any way. How can you have a major PPV without Dean Ambrose? So, yes, I think he gets involved here and costs Seth Rollins. It’s also a nice way to get Nakamura a win to get him back on track and get SmackDown one of the big wins. Pick: Shinsuke Nakamura
Scott: I don’t think it’s out of the realm of possibility that Dean Ambrose costs Seth Rollins his match against Shinsuke Nakamura. Even though Rollins is part of RAW , Ambrose gives the impression he doesn’t care about being a team player anymore. Nakamura could also really use a big win. Pick: Shinsuke Nakamura
Women’s 5-on-5 Traditional Survivor Series Elimination Match
Team RAW : Natalya, Mickie James, Nia Jax, Tamina Snuka & Ruby Riott vs. Team SmackDown: Carmella, Naomi, Asuka, Sonya Deville & TBA
Chuck: With Charlotte Flair having been bumped up to face Ronda Rousey, the women from SmackDown are short a team member. Who will it be? No replacement has been announced, but my money is on Zelina Vega, who was recently medically cleared to return to the ring. She had a strong showing at Evolution and don’t be surprised if WWE begins to slowly elevate her status. Is she enough of an X-factor though? Probably not. I see team Red, captained by Alexa Bliss, taking this one and Nia Jax pinning Asuka or Vega (if she’s the mystery fifth). Pick: Team RAW
Aaron: This is a tough call. The person who has the most going into this is arguably Nia Jax, as they continue to point her towards Ronda Rousey. However, the way they’ve set this match up positions Smackdown as the faces, and in exhibition matches it’s hard to go against clear faces. I’ll go with the overarching storyline over the bubble though and say that Nia Jax (and maybe Tamina) stand tall here. Pick: Team RAW
Scott: I could see this match going both ways. But in the end, I see Team RAW team imploding with Ruby and Natalya. There may also be heat on Nia for breaking Becky Lynch’s face on Monday. My best guess is that Naomi or Asuka will getting the rub as the survivors for the blue team. Pick: Team SmackDown
Men’s 5-on-5 Traditional Survivor Series Elimination Match
Team RAW : Braun Strowman, Dolph Ziggler, Drew McIntyre, Finn Balor & Bobby Lashley vs. Team SmackDown: The Miz, Shane McMahon, Samoa Joe, Rey Mysterio & Jeff Hardy
Chuck: Shane McMahon just won the World Cup, and it only makes sense for the best wrestler in the world to win, right? Right? Um, no, but a victory from SmackDown isn’t out of the realm of possibility either. However, RAW has two big things going for it. One, Braun Strowman and Drew McIntyre are both in the midst of a big push, and a loss might set them back slightly. Second, this is the perfect opportunity for Ziggler to exact his revenge on Shane O’Mac for inserting himself into the tournament finals at Crown Jewel. Pick: Team RAW
Aaron: The wrinkle that they introduced on Monday, with Team RAW needing to win for Braun to get his title shot, is a bit of a game-changer if we expect him to be challenging Brock Lesnar soon. Otherwise the obvious story involved Baron Corbin screwing over Braun and Braun taking it out on his teammates, with maybe someone like The Miz getting the rub of sole survivor. They could even give it to Shane McMahon so he gets super-cocky after being Best in the World AND Sole Survivor. However, the stipulation does make things a little more interesting. I will guess they still implement this theory, with Braun getting his title shot in some other way. Pick: Team SmackDown
Scott: WWE is extremely high on Drew McIntyre. and being a survivor for his team can help grow his name further. He appears on the cusp of being a surefire main eventer. Then there is Braun Strowman, who I also can visualize lasting, along with McIntyre. Two top contenders for the Universal title. Pick: Team RAW
WWE Cruiserweight Champion Buddy Murphy vs. Mustafa Ali
Chuck: I’m going with Buddy Murphy here. He just captured the title in his native Australia last month at Super Show-Down, so why not keep the gold around the waist for a while longer? Pick: Buddy Murphy
Aaron: I thought that maybe Buddy Murphy would have a quick reign, due to winning it in his hometown, and then drop it right back to Cedric Alexander. However, now that we’re at this moment, it doesn’t quite feel like the right time. Maybe at the Royal Rumble. Pick: Buddy Murphy
Scott: I feel Buddy Murphy is just getting started and solidifying his reign. So, I don’t think WWE would make the “205 Live” front man lose the gold in such quick fashion. Although I do think Mustafa Ali is among the most underrated talents on the entire WWE roster. Hope he does get his day in the sun sooner rather than later. Pick: Buddy Murphy
RAW Tag Team Champions AOP vs. SmackDown Tag Team Champions The Bar (w/ Big Show)
Chuck: The AOP are in need of a signature win to solidify their standing atop the RAW tag team division. But I’m not sold that they’re going to get that victory here. Big Show and Drake Maverick are going to be factors here, but I don’t see their interference leading to a non-finish. My gut tells me that the veterans will get the victory. Pick: The Bar
Aaron: As much as I’d like to see The Bar stand strong here, the Authors of Pain are still establishing themselves as a truly dominant force in the tag division. A win over a truly strong team, as opposed to single wrestlers or teams like The B-Team, could go a long way. Pick: AOP
Scott: A win here would be most beneficial to the Authors of Pain. Defeating the veteran duo of Sheamus and Cesaro is quite the feather in the cap. The Bar has basically done it all, so I’m going with the Drake Maverick-led team. I expect some fun interaction between Big Show and Maverick regardless of the finish. Pick: AOP
10-on-10 Tag Team Traditional Survivor Series Elimination Match (Kickoff Match)
Team RAW : Bobby Roode & Chad Gable, The Ascension, Lucha House Party, B-Team & The Revival vs. Team SmackDown: The Usos, New Day, Good Brothers, SAnitY & The Colons
Chuck: This one seems like a no-brainer on paper. SmackDown‘s tag division is much stronger than their Monday counterparts, just by having The Usos and New Day in the corner. I wouldn’t spend a whole lot of time trying to dissect this one. My guess is that one of the Usos will pin either Roode or Gable to get the win. Oh, and welcome back to TV, Colons. Pick: Team SmackDown
Aaron: This is the one survivor series match I feel fairly comfortable about. The Smackdown tag teams are just so much better. Count on The New Day and The Usos to stand tall at the end of this. Pick: Team SmackDown
Scott: The Usos stand out in so many ways, finding their sweet spot in WWE among the top tag teams of the modern era. They, along with New Day, stand out to me surviving together or separately. That said, I think Big E is a main event waiting to happen. And being a sole survivor with New Day can be the start of it if the company wanted to make a true go of it. Pick: Team SmackDown
Chuck Carroll is former pro wrestling announcer and referee turned sports media personality. He once appeared on Monday Night RAW when he presented Robert Griffin III with a WWE title belt in the Redskins locker room.
Follow him on Twitter @ChuckCarrollWLC.