WWE SURVIVOR SERIES
NOVEMBER 25, 2023
ALLSTATE ARENA
CHICAGO, IL

Watch: Peacock

MEET YOUR REVIEWER:

Suit Williams: @SuitWilliams on Twitter/all Twitter variants. F4WOnline.com for the best Collision and ROH reviews in the game. My CM Punk retrospective series—Bummer of Punk—looking at his summer of 2011.

There’s no other place to start.

On January 27, 2014, CM Punk left the WWE.

On November 25, 2023, at WWE Survivor Series 2023, he came back.

I’ll admit, this is a bit bigger than Carlito coming back at Fastlane.

Hell has frozen over. After a decade of acrimony, lawsuits, potshots, and disdain for each other, the man whose departure has influenced the last decade of major league professional wrestling returned to the place where he became a top-line star in spite of the promotion’s best efforts. (Did you see the Bummer of Punk link at the top?)

It is a massive coup for WWE, as their recent hot streak gets a dump truck of gasoline poured on it with the arrival of the most interesting name in professional wrestling today. You can argue that it is a massive black eye for AEW who, while in my opinion justified in their firing of Punk in September, lost their white whale after a year of disarray and mayhem. But while WWE will have a surge of momentum and energy coming off of this, it’s hard not to turn your mind back to 2021.

CM Punk came to AEW in one of the biggest moments in professional wrestling history. There was such a positive momentum to the promotion, and Punk arriving was the cherry on top. From his debut to Double or Nothing, everything felt like it was going AEW’s way. Punk had great matches, great promos, and great feuds. Then, Hangman Page went off-script.

The issues within the promotion came to light. The genuine hatred bubbled over. And what had the vision of a harmonious alternative fell apart. Punk broke his foot, sending AEW’s summer into disarray. He returned, only to tear his triceps two weeks later and send everything into a tailspin at the post-show scrum and the ensuing fight with The Elite. He came back again, got into another fight with Jack Perry, and got fired.

All of that was with a promotion that DIDN’T fire him on his wedding day and bankrolled a lawsuit against him. All of that was with a promotion with top guys who weren’t cursing his name in public beforehand. And all of that was with a promotion where he didn’t have documented issues with the public face of the promotion.

If you’re excited, I can’t blame you. Punk’s last match in AEW was at Wembley Stadium in an excellent battle with Samoa Joe. He’s still sharp on the mic when he’s not juggling four feuds at once. He’s still great. But that greatness comes with the risk of injury and backstage blowups and mayhem. It’s all a part of the package.

For me as a fan, I can’t say this moves my needle. Not for the fact that Punk does nothing for me, as he’s still one of my three favorite wrestlers ever. It’s the fact that he’s walking into a company that I have no interest in watching. The WWE Correspondent deal I have been doing for this site all year is a bit. I’m only doing this because rarely does any other writer on the site want to do PPV reviews for WWE.

WWE has hot babyfaces running wild on top, with heels compelling enough for their fans to want to see beaten. I understand why they are hot. But between the hacky, cornball presentation completely turning me off, and the wrestling not being anything exceptional compared to the number of hours this company churns out, this promotion doesn’t do anything for me. Punk isn’t gonna get me to watch Raw or Smackdown, he’s just gonna be a guy I like that I don’t watch very often.

That’s a me problem, though. Punk will move the needle in ways that make so-called Needle Movers very uncomfortable, and WWE will thrive in the process. Maybe they’re better equipped to handle the eruptions of Mount Brooks. Maybe they’re more willing to cut him off at the first sign of trouble. Maybe Punk realizes that this could be his last chance at a run on top. This whole thing gives me “New York Jet Aaron Rodgers” vibes, a high-profile free agent signing that will either go well or end in complete turmoil. Either way, the fallout of this night will be must-see.

Oh yeah, there was an entire show before this.

WARGAMES MATCH
BECKY LYNCH, BIANCA BELAIR, CHARLOTTE FLAIR & SHOTZI DEF. DAMAGE CTRL (ASUKA, BAYLEY, IYO SKY & KAIRI SANE) (W/DAKOTA KAI)

The entrances to this match are exactly why I don’t like this company. Everything feels so overly structured and choreographed. There’s no real feeling, no real emotion here. Damage Control came out for their match, three feet away from their hated rivals locked in a cage. Instead of trying to get at them, or even acknowledging them, they just did their WWE 2K entrance, bouncing in place like Mortal Kombat characters when you leave to take a piss. This blood feud was sponsored by Ruffles, complete with banner advertising around the ring. An inauthentic stage play instead of a fight.

The match was a typical WWE playpen hardcore match. Weapons with no blood, spots with no connective tissue, people jumping off of high things. Iyo did her cage dive that she’s done in every single one of these WarGames matches. Becky and Charlotte co-existed. Bayley took everyone’s finish and got pinned after a Manhandle Slam through a table, setting up Damage Control booting her from the group at some point in the future. WWE WarGames matches are WarGames matches in name, but Lethal Lockdown matches in practice. The babyfaces had the advantage, and the match ended with a pin. That’s probably to give this match some difference from the other WarGames match tonight, but the preferable option is to just not do two of the same match in one night. I dunno man, what else can I say? You’ve seen this match before, and you’ll see it again in the main event. **1/2

WWE INTERCONTINENTAL TITLE MATCH
GUNTHER (C) DEF. THE MIZ

The one-two punch of a Pretty Deadly/R-Truth/Alpha Academy comedy segment into a match where I’m supposed to take the Miz seriously almost finished me off. I will never, EVER care about The Miz. This is why I’m not excited about CM Punk showing up here. Much like CM Punk, Gunther is one of my favorite wrestlers in the world right now. At some point, I’m going to be asked to care about Punk going up against guys like The Miz and “Grayson Waller” and other absolute zeroes. I won’t. Maybe you will. Again, it’s a me problem.

I was ready to slap a Gentlemen’s Three on this and move on, but a hilariously mistimed low blow spot took me right out of it. Gunther won with a Liontamer, keeping The Miz from tying Chris Jericho’s record for Intercontinental Title reigns. **1/2

SANTOS ESCOBAR DEF. DRAGON LEE

Santos Escobar turned on Rey Mysterio and took Rey out for his yearly knee scope. Carlito challenged Santos for this match, but Santos took him out on Smackdown the night before. Dragon Lee wanted to defend Mysterio’s honor, so he offered to fill in and fight Escobar here. I blew off a preview for this show, which is good because I would have wasted my breath on a Carlito match that never happened.

These two had a solid match here, the best traditional match WWE has had on PPV in months. They probably have a second gear that they could reach, but that’s not what Lee was here for. Escobar won here with the Phantom Driver, and he’ll beat Carlito on his way to the blowoff match with Mysterio. Full credit to WWE, the booking in the “no seriously, it’s the Triple H era” era has been simple, logical, and easy to follow. I hesitate to throw them flowers for meeting the bare minimum of the storytelling that they pride themselves on telling, but I gotta call a spade a spade. ***

WWE WOMEN’S WORLD TITLE MATCH
RHEA RIPLEY (C) DEF. ZOEY STARK

Rhea Ripley has what I would call an “Ultimate Warrior issue.” She’s a person people are into, but no one is into any of her challengers. And no offense to Zoey Stark, but she’s not exactly Rick Rude. If people aren’t chanting for Ripley, these title defenses are heatless and dull. Ripley won with Riptide. **

WARGAMES MATCH
CODY RHODES, JEY USO, RANDY ORTON, SAMI ZAYN & SETH ROLLINS DEF. DREW MCINTYRE & THE JUDGMENT DAY (DAMIAN PRIEST, DOMINIK MYSTERIO, FINN BALOR & JD MCDONAGH)

I was going to copy and paste my review from the other WarGames match, but at least they were smart enough to give the heels the advantage here. McIntyre was focused on Main Event Jey Uso, as he held a grudge from Clash at the Castle last year. They teased having Priest cash in during the match, but Randy Orton made his return after a year and a half. He looked, uh, very well to say the least. He got a huge pop, hitting the RKO on Dom and a super-duper-mega RKO on McDonaugh, who got thrown off the cage. Rhodes pinned Priest with the Cross Rhodes. The better of the two cage matches. ***

We got the Punk return afterward, which got a nuclear pop. There was video of Rollins freaking out at cageside, which has been reported as part of a work to set up a future PPV match between him and Punk. Again, this is a big scalp for WWE to get over AEW. Whether or not this story has a happy ending, it’ll be a wild ride.

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