Culture of Hoops

WWE Survivor Series: Showing Face

The buildup to this year’s WWE Survivor Series has been entertaining, with John Cena facing Triple H and Stephanie McMahon seemingly one final time. If The Authority loses, they will be stripped of their power. Does John Cena have enough good guys on his side? Does he need them?

For wrestling fans, fall isn’t signaled by pumpkin spice lattes or crazy sales. Instead, it’s heralded by two teams against one another in a traditional Survivor Series elimination match. Once a competitor is pinned, he or she must go backstage. The remaining participants will duke it out until all superstars from one team are eliminated, declaring the other team the winner.

The storyline for this year’s event began with the familiar theme of Vince McMahon playing at the start of Raw, which was surprising to hear considering McMahon had been off television for months. In his place as the authority figure have been his daughter Stephanie McMahon and son-in-law Triple H, who overtly hold the meta moniker of The Authority.

Stepping into the ring, the 69-year-old owner of WWE was greeted with a wave of cheers from fans. With the ovation he received that night, it seems also incredulous that he was the quintessential evil foil to all the WWE superstars in the Attitude Era. With an overzealous look, gazing upon the fans, he began complimenting Stephanie McMahon and Triple H on a job well done managing the WWE product in his absence. But in reality, like all heel authority figures in professional wrestling, they have overstepped their boundaries in the name of what is best for business, which also happens to be their notorious catchphrase.

The elder McMahon didn’t end his time on the microphone with a mere compliment. After all, Vince McMahon doesn’t aggressively strut down a WWE ramp for no reason. He continued by announcing a 10-person tag team match Survivor Series. One side of the ring will be five members of The Authority’s choosing. On the opposing side will be Team Cena, composed of John Cena and four wrestlers of his choosing. If Team Authority loses, they will be stripped of their power in WWE. Consider this a Deus Ex McMachina.

The battle between The Authority and John Cena has been ongoing for month. Initially intended for the injured Daniel Bryan, John Cena has had to overcome a litany of superstars that The Authority made him face. And just like every John Cena underdog story, he has come out on top, raising his hands while the familiar horn of his theme music to close the show.

But the numbers game changes everything. Up until this week’s Raw, the final show before the pay-per-view, John Cena was unsure of who was going to be a part of his team. This is partly due to the fear from other WWE superstars that they will get punished by The Authority if they do so, but it also speaks much about behind-the-scenes sentiments. John Cena has been, by and large, the most popular face—a good guy—in WWE’s recent history. Save for the abruptly retired CM Punk and the inopportunely injured Daniel Bryan, no other superstar has come close.

This places WWE in a predicament: they must establish believable faces to complement Cena, and have succeeded in doing so with little to no exposure. Dolph Ziggler, who has been regarded as one of the most talented wrestlers for his athleticism alone, has been dismissed in WWE programming as the big fish in a small pond among the mid-card wrestlers. But in the buildup to Survivor Series, The Authority has taken the meta approach by directly referencing the backstage politics. Doing so has made Ziggler the quintessential underdog with all the tools—the wrestling skills, the gravitas on the microphone, the charisma—to overcome the odds.

Ryback, with a personality arguably bigger than his muscles, made his return, sporting the familiar airbrushed singlet and “feed me more” catchphrase as the renegade desperado of the WWE. From the start, he referenced the tough times his character recently had prior to the surgery that put him out of action for weeks. Ryback also took the talkin’ baseball route and promised fans that he will try harder to perform and entertain fans. Any notion of kayfabe—or in character sentiment—was overshadowed by the real. Though he teased teaming up for The Authority, he eventually agreed to join John Cena as the wild card brute of the team.

Team Cena also has the always-reliable seven-foot-tall Big Show and a surprising newcomer in Erick Rowan, who made his return this week on Raw as a replacement for Sheamus, who The Authority beat down so badly that he had to be rushed to the hospital. This last-minute swerve is especially intriguing due to Rowan’s former tag team partner Luke Harper being on the opposing team. The two have shared screen time for less than a minute, yet the anticipation for these two to face off is high.

Team Cena will be facing Luke Harper, formerly of the Wyatt family. Rusev, the Bulgarian brute who has an affinity for all things Russian, is skeptically participating as well. The World’s Strongest Man in Mark Henry has also seemingly decided to drop his feud with Rusev to reap the benefits of an Authority win. Authority members Kane and Money in the Bank winner Seth Rollins will also be participating to maintain Stephanie McMahon and Triple H’s power.

But despite the participants, the math once again boils down The Authority versus John Cena. Triple H and Stephanie McMahon have openly worried about losing the match, to which Triple H responds by dismissing any such notion. And the pieces are set in place that John Cena has enough formidable faces to complement him. But since this storyline has been implicitly meta, with references about real-life happenings from Cena to Ziggler to The Authority, this positioning might be meta as well. If WWE can build its share of faces, they won’t necessarily need John Cena as a face. He might do what has been considered impossible, if not downright blasphemous. He might turn heel.

WWE Survivor Series will take place on Sunday November 23rd at 8 p.m. ET on pay-per-view and WWE Network.

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