The Survivor Series is part of WWE’s core four pay per views, yet the event has never historically delivered the anticipation or intrigue of WrestleMania, SummerSlam, or the Royal Rumble. This year’s Survivor Series, however, is arguably WWE’s most anticipated pay per view of the year, featuring three old school five-on-five strive-to-survive match-ups in addition to three singles matches, headlined by Brock Lesnar battling the returning Bill Goldberg.
“The intensity is there,” said Raw general manager Mick Foley, who spoke with Sports Illustrated on Thursday afternoon to preview the event. “Both these guys feel they need to redeem the match they had in 2004 [at WrestleMania XX] where their hearts weren’t really in it, and now they are.”
Foley noted that the match captures an intoxicating blend of bellicosity, redemption, and brutality.
“Brock’s got this chance to make up for that WrestleMania match,” explained Foley. “Bill has a chance to wrestle in front of his son for the first time. It’s a huge deal to both of them. I don’t know how much in-ring psychology there is going to be, but it will be a battle. If people don’t have the WWE Network, they need to check it out just to see that match.”
For the first-time in its thirty year history, WWE is delivering a four-hour Survivor Series this Sunday. The show kicks off at 7 p.m. ET and also includes three matches between the opposing brands of Raw and Smackdown.
Foley noted that the major philosophical difference between Raw and Smackdown is visible in the five-on-five match featuring Raw’s Kevin Owens, Chris Jericho, Roman Reigns, Seth Rollins, and Braun Strowman versus AJ Styles, Dean Ambrose, Randy Orton, Bray Wyatt, and Shane McMahon.
“We question how Smackdown can be the ‘Land of Opportunity’ when they’re the ones giving an opportunity to their commissioner,” said Foley, questioning why the 46-year-old McMahon is competing in the match instead of a full-time Smackdown competitor. “It seems like politics, and I think I speak for everyone when I say that we’ve had enough politics for a while. The Miz is now the IC champion, but how they don’t have a spot on their roster in this match for Miz or Dolph Ziggler is very telling.”
Raw, with its three-hour runtime every Monday, also has its drawbacks. Fans—and performers—have said that the two-hour format of Smackdown offers a much better flow every Tuesday, but Foley reiterated that Raw’s recipe for success is rooted in its talent roster.
“Stephanie McMahon and I believe we have the better roster and this is a chance for us to show it,” said Foley. “It will mean a lot for our guys to shine at the Survivor Series. I’m not taking anything away from AJ, who has had a career year, or Dean, who was a great champion for them, but I think we have the better team. It’s going to be a great match and hopefully a great night for Raw.”
The WWE Network aired the “State of the WWE Address” this past Monday after Raw, and the tensions were genuinely high between Foley and Smackdown general manager Daniel Bryan when comparing their styles and effectiveness as GMs.
“Daniel is doing a fine job over there, but he seems to pick the people he likes,” said Foley. “This is something that we didn’t hit upon in our post-Raw ‘State of the Universe.’ I’m proud of the fact that most of the people on my team don’t like me. Jericho and Owens can’t stand me, Braun Strowman has made several thinly veiled threats at snuffing out my existence, and yet they’re still on the team.
Foley’s passion for the business has helped create some memorable moments during his tenure as general manager, particularly his promo on Raw leading up to the October Hell in a Cell pay per view with Sasha Banks and Charlotte.
“There are certain moments when everyone who is sitting at home goes, ‘I’m pretty sure he meant that,’” explained Foley. “When I was talking to the women, I was putting my heart out there. Not only for women’s wrestling, but also important to me on a personal level because I care about the two women personally. Those two women, in particular, and several of the other women, just bring such a combination of intensity and emotion to their matches that it makes it compelling and, in some cases, better than their male counterparts.”
The Banks-Charlotte main event was marred by a controversial finish that saw Charlotte win the women’s championship despite the match occurring in Banks’ home city of Boston, as well as an uncomfortable spot where Charlotte threw Banks through a table—twice—but could not break the board with her impact.
“The table didn’t break, but I thought it just looked more vicious,” noted Foley. “Sasha was bouncing, almost ricocheting off it, and I thought it looked more devastating going into the finish. People are used to a table breaking. Some people would say it didn’t go right, but I say it was even more effective. Clearly, people would have left on a high note if Sasha, whose hometown is Boston, had come out on top. But it didn’t happen, and that shouldn’t take away from the effort the women put in. I thought that was one of the top cell matches I’ve ever seen.”
Victory for Raw at the Survivor Series, Foley explained, will be determined by winning percentage. Raw vs. Smackdown matches also include Intercontinental champion The Miz defending against Raw’s Sami Zayn, as well as Raw’s Brian Kendrick defending his cruiserweight championship against Smackdown’s Kalisto. The entire cruiserweight division is on the line, as the division heads to Smackdown or Raw depending on the outcome.
“We would like to win two-out-of-three of those five-on-five matches, win the IC title, and retain the cruiserweight division,” said Foley. “Stakes are pretty high. I’m not sure why I put the cruiserweights up for grabs—maybe it was with the subliminal thought that Daniel Bryan might do a better job than I have. That doesn’t mean I want to lose those guys, but if I do, I think they’ll have a very good home at Smackdown.”
While the WWE just announced that the 2017 Survivor Series will take place in Houston, Texas, at the Toyota Center, Foley’s focus remains entirely on this Sunday’s affair.
“It’s a great alternative universe we offer the public, especially with half the country divided and some heaviness in the world. We offer a place to escape for a few hours, not only at the Survivor Series but also every Monday and Tuesday night on Raw and Smackdown.”