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Mat Matters: Requiem for a Pay-Per-View?
By DAVE HILLHOUSE -- SLAM! Wrestling


A victorious CM Punk as WWE champion at the conclusion of Survivor Series didn't look all that different than the previous bunch of pay-per-views. Photos by Mike Mastrandrea

This year's Survivor Series is in the books, further cementing its position as the second-longest tenured pay-per-view that the WWE offers, debuting only two-and-a-half years after the inaugural WrestleMania. This isn't No Mercy or even In Your House; this is one of the most esteemed and entrenched events that the WWE rolls out amidst the ever-evolving list of pay-per-view offerings.

So why did this year's card play out like an afterthought?

One of the vaunted qualities of the way WWE does its business, noted especially by wrestlers that have competed both for and against Vince McMahon, is its foresight and pre-planning when it comes to storylines. Like Santa Claus returning home in the wee hours of December 25th, tired but ready to get to work, the end of WrestleMania reportedly heralds the preparation for the following year's headline show. Nowhere has this been more recently evident than the year-long build-up between The Rock and John Cena.

Survivor Series 2012, however, saw Cena enter the main event with only a scant two-week build-up to his Triple Threat match with CM Punk and Ryback, plus it was a match he wasn't supposed to be in as it was a match that was not even supposed to be on the line-up.

Within one week, the main event of Survivor Series went from a surprising and truly intriguing elimination tag team match between Team Punk and Team Foley (featuring Ryback), effectively taking a WWE Championship match off the table (not to mention the WWE Tag Team Championship and Intercontinental Championship as well, with the title holders also acting as team members), to a sudden shift in direction, awkwardly removing Punk and Ryback from the Survivor Series elimination match and creating the Triple Threat match with Cena added in.

This was not the result of carefully crafted booking -- this was knee-jerk shuffling.

There was only one logical storytelling reason to transplant Punk from a non-title tag match into a championship defense, and that would have been to crown a new champion. Otherwise, everything that was accomplished at the hands of Punk, Heyman, and his new partners-in-crime could have been done with the match that was originally booked anyway.

To clarify, I don't think it would have been necessarily logical (nor a good idea) to have Punk lose on day 364, just that the sudden and inexplicable change in the main event would have at least been made explicable if he lost the belt as a result. Instead, after Hell in a Cell, we're given back-to-back PPVs with almost exactly the same purpose, but more importantly with almost exactly the same ending. Punk is about to lose the title, but holds on to it through nefarious means.

It's here that the relevancy of Survivor Series comes into question. Why use this storied event as a means to deliver such a non-descript ending, when this conclusion would have played out in the context of any generic pay-per-view? When it was announced during a 2010 WWE conference call that Survivor Series was not going to continue due to the irrelevancy of the format to the current landscape, it seemed that a major point was being ignored: the WWE is itself in control of what is relevant to its own programming.


Hey, at least Ryback got his hands on Punk for a bit.
Simply put: the WWE can, if so desired, make Survivor Series relevant. Make a rule that the champion does not defend the title but must compete as part of a team, or that losing a Survivor Series match captained by the champion, regardless of who is pinned, forces the defense of the belt on the following night's Raw. Ultimately, the most valuable part of any kind of decision like this is to take a break from the monthly championship matches.

As important as championships are, the less often they are defended the more meaningful the matches will be.

That's what Survivor Series, Royal Rumble, King of the Ring, and other such events can (and used to) offer: a respite from the constant match-ups that feature, on the majority, the same collection of wrestlers facing off against one another month after month. That's what Team Punk vs. Team Foley was going to give us, and then, a week later, it was back to business as usual.

Part of the rationale being bandied about in fan discussion is that the WWE realized their short-sightedness in not having Punk defend his title at Survivor Series as violating the mandate of having the championship defended once every 30 days.

This is, however, nonsensical. Punk could have participated in the Survivor Series match and defended the title on Raw, Smackdown, Main Event, or even NXT. Paul Heyman could have found a legal loophole and challenged the 30-day clause. Punk could have let it expire as a protest. The point is, there are creative opportunities that arise through exploiting this stipulation which, let's not forget, is not a true mandated competitive necessity but is a plot point and can be modified accordingly.

Instead, the change in booking really took the wind out of the sails of one of the most intriguing Survivor Series matches in a long time. These tilts are usually advertised as "Traditional," referring to the original concept of Survivor Series which had nothing to do with defending titles and everything to do with getting a gang of like-minded people together to fight for nothing but pride in victory.

If it's not going to fulfil that purpose any more, then maybe it is irrelevant and its time is up. I hope not, but then, it's not up to me.

RELATED LINKS

  • Previous Mat Matters Editorial columns
  • WWE Survivor Series Photo Gallery
  • Nov. 19, 2012: Punk makes it through Survivor Series with some help from the NXT wave of talent
  • Nov. 16, 2012: No trust between Survivor Series partners Kofi and Miz
  • Nov. 18, 2012: Countdown to WWE Survivor Series

    Dave Hillhouse is a screenwriter and teacher, who covers Smackdown on a weekly basis for SLAM! Wrestling.