Okay, best to not bury the lead, even if that means going out of order. So let’s start this review off by talking about the last thing we saw on the 2023 WWE Survivor Series: WarGames Premium Live Event:

CM Punk is Back in the WWE!

CM Punk returns at the end of the 2023 WWE Survivor Series

Yes, that’s right. CM Punk returned to a WWE arena for the first time since 2014. The sold-out AllState Arena in his hometown of Chicago, Illinois exploded the moment Cult of Personality (the 2023 remastered version of it, at that) started playing, following the conclusion of the night’s Main Event, the Men’s WarGames Match.

This review is focused on this particular show. So regardless of what you may think about Punk returning to a company he left on, well, not the best terms, or his AEW runs, and how they ended, one thing is clear: this was handled extremely well.

The most obvious choice, that was covertly hinted at on WWE programming for a couple of months, in the place where it made the most sense, somehow became something that was clearly not going to happen. Even with night-of teases that Randy Orton might not show up, followed immediately by CM Punk chants from the live crowd, I didn’t think they would actually pull the trigger. Then, when Orton showed up, the match ended, and it seemed like they were about to go off the air, it happened. And it felt like a shocker, because it was.

Effectively, WWE delivered a PLE that worked very well without a Punk return. Their audience was satisfied, the internet wrestling community was accepting, and so was the crowd in Chicago. They made it clear they didn’t need a Punk return, and then they gave us one. Well played!

And speaking of the PLE, here are my thoughts on the matches:

Women’s WarGames Match: Team Bianca Versus Team Damage CTRL

WWE Women’s Champion Iyo Sky with a Crossbody off the top of the cage, inside a trashcan, during the Women’s WarGames Match at WWE Survivor Series 2023

The Women’s WarGames Match, which kicked off the show, was the most fun match of the night. The highlight for me was clearly WWE Women’s Champion Iyo Sky first reeling a trashcan up to the top of the cage, with the help of Dakota Kai on the outside, then wearing it as she did a Crossbody off the top onto all the other women currently in the match. I found out, after the fact, that Sky had already done the same thing (the second part, at least) in NXT, but since I hadn’t seen that, her doing it here seemed truly original, and great to watch.

There were plenty of other spots from all the competitors, like Charlotte Flair’s Moonsault off the top of the cage. Kairi Sane is quite the force to be reckoned with when holding a trashcan lid. This hot Chicago crowd really wanted tables, to the point of booing anyone for pulling out any other weapon before entering the WarGames cage. Asuka got quite a big cheer for finally giving them what they wanted, plus she got to use her mist. Legally, in this case. The only weapon Bianca Belair needed, at first, was her hair. While being the one to take the aforementioned mist, Shotzi did, overall, put on a good performance, her first on such a large stage.

As fun as this match was, there was also a decent amount of drama. Not as much as the Men’s WarGames Match, but it was significant. The tension between Charlotte and Becky Lynch was present, right up until they settled their differences, and hugged it out with the match still going on.

The expected tension between Bayley and the restrof Damage CTRL wasn’t present. They all came out in masks, and worked as a team. Bayley even got some assistance from Dakota Kai from outside of the cage when she had started things off with Becky inside WarGames.

Yes, Bayley was the one who got pinned, after Lynch gave her a Manhandle Slam off the second rope, and through the table. She was only in that position, though, because she took a spear from Charlotte to save Kairi Sane. So maybe they won’t turn on her after all.

This was a great way to kick off this Big 4 PLE, and set a wild tone for the rest of the night.

Intercontinental Champion Gunther Versus Challenger The Miz

The Miz punches Gunther during the Intercontinental Championship Match at the 2023 WWE Survivor Series

Yes, I knew that Gunther would continue his streak, the longest running one in the history of the Intercontinental Championship, and retain. But there was just enough doubt to make this a truly exciting match to watch. The Miz was a credible opponent, and Gunther’s selling had me thinking, on a couple of occasions, that he might pull off a major upset.

I like how Miz didn’t have to turn full babyface to be sympathetic to the crowd. He can still be the hero even when he removes the turnbuckle padding, and then, when the referee is distracted, uses the same combo of a Low Blow followed by a Skull Crushing Finale, that knocked The Ring General out on RAW. It didn’t work here, but the crowd excitement at this false finish was palpable.

I don’t think I’ve seen a bad Gunther match, he’s just that good, and can have a good match with anyone, and bring the best out of his opponent, even if the opponent really isn’t up to it, like (then)Madcap Moss wasn’t at the live Smackdown I was in the audience for in Montreal. But when the opponent can go, like Miz was here, we get an even better Gunther, with the trash talk combined with the power moves, and his top-notch heel selling.

I didn’t think Miz would unseat Gunther, as I’m still pulling for Chad Gable at WrestleMania, but I wouldn’t have been disappointed if he had here. This was a solid follow-up to the Women’s WarGames Match.

Santos Escobar Versus Dragon Lee

Santos Escobar tries to remove Dragon Lee’s mask at the 2023 WWE Survivor Series

I’m not sure if Dragon Lee in this spot was the plan all along, or if Carlito really was injured, so WWE had to change gears on Friday’s Smackdown. Whatever the reason, this was the better choice.

A match like this helped build Lee way more than it would have helped Carlito. Even though it wasn’t that long, and even though he lost clean, he got to show a Big 4 PLE audience the in-ring skills Smackdown audiences have been aware of for a few weeks. There most certainly wasn’t a lack of really nice-looking Hurricanrans and other Lucha moves. It also connects him to a major story. While not an LWO member yet, I wouldn’t be surprised if he joins.

Of course the main purpose of this match was to continue to propel Santos Escobar to the main event heel status that seems to be his destination. Fighting Lee gave him the opportunity to come across as a total heartless bad guy by trying to rip off his mask mid-match. And then he won with a Canadian Destroyer and a Phantom Driver, so no funny business, which makes him look even stronger. A bit of cheating might have been required had he been facing an established star like Carlito.

As the middle match on the show, it was a good watch that remained interesting throughout, and helped move things along briskly.

Women’s World Champion Rhea Ripley Versus Challenger Zoey Stark

Rhea Ripley Zoey Stark 2023 WWE Survivor Series

This was a hard-hitting, well-fought bout where we all knew Rhea Ripley would retain her Women’s World Championship. That’s not because Zoey Stark isn’t a believable opponent physically, or ring work-wise. It’s also not because we all know that Mami will probably stay on top at least until WrestleMania, or until she faces Becky Lynch, which will probably be one and the same.

No, it’s because there hasn’t been nearly enough build to this match, and Zoey’s promo game, and reputation, are not at the level where she can work magic with the limited appearances on RAW that were given. Plus, she already lost to Ripley, along with three other women, and she squeaked out a victory in the battle royal to get this slot.

Still, both Zoey and Rhea brought their a-games, their power moves, their selling, and even quite a bit of trash talk to make this match, at the very least, a fun one to watch. Stark was impressive at points, and Ripley is always impressive. So this was a good bout, though not one where anyone expected, or even wanted, an upset.

Men’s WarGames Match: Team Cody Versus Team Judgement Day & Drew McIntyre

The returning Randy Orton faces down Drew McIntyre during the Men’s WarGames Match at the 2023 WWE Survivor Series

The Main Event Men’s WarGames Match was all about drama and suspense, with quite a few nice spots in the mix. This was also the case at last year’s Survivor Series, when the drama at WarGames centered around Sami Zayn and The Bloodline, and in particular, Jey Uso.

This year, Sami and Jey were the only two veterans of the match returning, once again on the same team, but this time probably the two most solidly aligned. Sami’s contributions to the match were more about introducing a table, to a huge crowd pop, finding a pipe on the cage itself to use, and helping World Heavyweight Champion Seth “Freakin” Rollins throw JD McDonagh off the cage, and into an RKO from the returning Randy Orton. A real fun performance from Zayn.

Jey did factor into the drama and suspense a bit this time, mainly on the question of whether or not he could co-exist with Orton, whom he was instrumental (in kayfabe) in knocking out of action for a year and a half as a member of The Bloodline. Spoiler Alert: They were fine with each other, at least for tonight. Also, Uso was the reason Drew McIntyre got into the match on the Judgement Day side, but Drew didn’t really get the revenge he wanted. But Jey entering the match did lead to a bit of friction between Drew and Damian Priest over who would enter them match next from their team.

Jey’s involvement was mainly all about the spots and the moves. I love how he got on top of his team’s waiting area mini cage to dance with the crowd before WarGames started. His performance was solid, and crowd-pleasing, as I hoped it would be.

When it comes to drama,, there were two main threads, and both involved team captain Cody Rhodes, who was competing for the first time in the match his late, great, father Dusty Rhodes created, which was, in and of itself, an emotional high. The first issue was whether or not Rhodes and Rollins could get along for “just one night”, as they had agreed to do. The answer was yes, and that was revealed in a really nice way when Seth helped Cody use the bullwhip, which the American Nightmare had brought into the match as a tribute to Dusty.

Of course the biggest drama of the match centered around whether or not Orton would honor his promise to Rhodes and show up. He waited until the very last minute, and even beyond that. Since all of Team Cody were down for the count, and Priest had just put Rollins through a table, Rhea Ripley showing up with the Money in the Bank briefcase, instead of Orton, the suspense was palpable. Would Priest cash in during WarGames? Even though logically this was when Orton should show up to save the day, and it was, I honestly thought, for a moment, it would go the other way.

This was tension and drama done right. While the resolution turned out to be happy one, with the aforementioned thrilling RKO cage spot into Randy offering Priest up to Cody for the Cross Rhodes, and the win, that was an earned result.

The match also made sense, from Seth and Finn Bálor, the two workhorses, being the ones to start the match, right up to how it ended. Sure, Orton arriving late, seemingly without a reason, could be an outlier, but it just worked. Everyone, including Dominik Mysterio for a bit, looked strong.

When Team Cody stood unified, and strong, it was a great end to the match, and to Survivor Series, except it wasn’t the end (see the top of this review). While Punk returning will, inevitably be THE story comin from this PLE, I hope that this great match won’t be forgotten.

Assorted Thoughts

  • I kind of want to eat some Ruffles, and maybe snap into a SlimJim for some reason. Seriously, though, nobody does product placement like the WWE.
  • The ad spots meant we got to see The Alpha Academy, and other mid-card stars that don’t usually get included on PLEs. We also got the return of R-Truth, after months of injury, in a backstage ad spot! Not sure if that’s a first (probably not), but it does sure feel like it. Welcome back!
  • I love how they gave this show a backstage throughline with the “Will he or won’t he?” on Orton’s return. They even risked CM Punk chants, which seemed risky at the time, but then it became apparent why they let it happen.
  • I always watch the press conferences, but this time it felt like must-see viewing. They started with Paul HHH Levesque, instead of ending with him, which made total sense. His answers were to-the-point, and rang honest. Plus he was funny at parts. Not drunk Jey Uso funny, but still good.
  • Seth’s reaction to Punk’s return caught on fan cameras seems to me like a work, but if that’s the case, it was a good one.

The 2023 Survivor Series was a top-notch PLE with a real fun opener, a drama-packed closer, and three solid shorter matches in the middle. It stood on its own without the CM Punk return, and then it got the return, one of the most epic moments, and shared clips, in recent WWE memory.

Share and Enjoy !


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