How two of the most anticipated matches in WWE history came together during one fateful night on SmackDown LIVE
There was a distinct feeling in the air in St. Louis’ Enterprise Center. It could not be properly articulated, but everyone sensed it. Right from the jump, with Tom Phillips announcing that SmackDown Women’s Champion Becky Lynch would not be able to compete against Ronda Rousey at Survivor Series due to multiple injuries sustained during Team Blue’s invasion of Raw the night prior, it was clear that we were in for a different kind of SmackDown LIVE. Yet, as palpable as that sensation was, no one could have foreseen that in the next two hours, a series of events would lead to two of the most anticipated matches in WWE history happening at Survivor Series, only five nights later.
So, how’d we get here?
When Paul Heyman arrived and interrupted then-WWE Champion AJ Styles as he was delivering a message to Brock Lesnar prior to their Champion vs. Champion rematch, it seemed we would witness a war of words between Styles and Heyman or perhaps a rare, surprise appearance from Lesnar himself. Nope.
Instead, Heyman invoked Daniel Bryan’s name, causing Styles to invoke Daniel Bryan’s name. An incited Bryan hit the scene to demand that The Phenomenal One refrain from ever invoking his name again when it wasn’t called for. AJ didn’t comply, causing Bryan to deck him in the face and resulting in a massive brawl between the Superstars. Frustrated that chaos had overtaken the blue brand, Shane McMahon agreed to sign a WWE Title Match between the two fired-up fan-favorites as the main event.
While all that was happening, Becky Lynch’s meteoric rise was being temporarily slowed due to circumstances completely out of her control. After eating a mean right from Nia Jax on Monday night that left her with a broken face and a severe concussion — but somehow still enough wherewithal to pummel The Baddest Woman on The Planet with a steel chair — Lynch was processing the fact that she would not be cleared to compete against Ronda Rousey at Survivor Series this Sunday. The Irish Lass Kicker wasn’t happy with the decision, making it clear that she wanted to go on with the match as planned, but it just wouldn’t be happening … “yet,” to quote The Man herself.
Instead, Lynch would stun the WWE Universe when she chose Charlotte Flair to replace her against Hot Ronda on Sunday. After months of tension, turmoil and Match of the Year contenders, Flair accepted and shook Lynch’s hand before the two former best friends-turned-rivals emotionally embraced, seemingly putting their past battles behind them. Just like that, we had pivoted from one of the most-anticipated women’s matches of all time to, well, another one of the most-anticipated women’s matches of all time … but, we still weren’t done.
Styles and Bryan laid into each other in a spectacular main event title fight that was everything the WWE Universe in St. Louis expected, until it wasn’t. After a hyper-competitive back-and-forth bout, Bryan kicked Styles below the belt while the referee was recuperating from almost being pummeled moments earlier. The “Yes!” Man’s actions dropped many a jaw, but before anyone could begin to process what they’d seen, Bryan, with a sinister smile on his face, nailed Styles with his signature Running Knee to become WWE Champion. The WWE Universe’s shock quickly transitioned to horror when Bryan heinously continued the assault on AJ even after being awarded the title.
Bryan’s return from career-threatening injuries to capture WWE Championship within a year should have been one of the most triumphant moments in WWE history. Instead, it was marred by his malicious actions, leaving an entire “Yes!” Movement searching for answers. However, easily lost in the commotion is that Bryan’s title win sets up yet another dream match for Survivor Series. Pardon the pun, yes, Brock Lesnar and Daniel Bryan are finally going to collide.
In not quite the blink of an eye (but pretty close to it), Ronda Rousey vs. Charlotte Flair and Brock Lesnar vs. Daniel Bryan, two super fights, were gifted, or more appropriately, willed, to us just five nights prior to WWE’s fall classic. In Lesnar vs. Bryan, you have a match that die-hard WWE Universe members have been clamoring to see for years. If differing styles make fights (and they very much do), The Beast and The “Yes!” Man squaring off represents, perhaps, the ultimate form of sports-entertainment. Bryan has said on-record multiple times that the match he wants most is against Lesnar. Welp, it's time. Whether or not Bryan’s unexplained actions from Tuesday night alter his approach to his battle against The Conqueror remains to be seen, but he’s probably been playing out this match in his head for years. And, according to Heyman on Tuesday, Lesnar has clearly thought of it at least once or twice as well.
As for Rousey vs. Charlotte, we have, quite bluntly, one of the biggest women’s sporting events of all time. Even if -- for some (silly) reason -- you looked beyond the fact that it is the most accomplished female MMA fighter to ever walk the Earth facing off against the most accomplished female sports-entertainer to ever walk the Earth, or both women’s ridiculous levels of athleticism, or that, yep, their contrasting styles also make for a fight very much worth salivating over, you also now have the Becky Lynch factor. In short, Rousey despises Lynch, and Flair, despite their differences, is now determined to fight in her former best friend’s honor. Sprinkle in Ronda and Charlotte’s drives to be the best in the company and you have a match that we probably would’ve needed five months to process. But alas, five nights will have to do.
As for the ramifications of these two matches? Honestly, who the heck knows? Less than a week ago, neither of these bouts were even remotely in the cards, and even if you somehow could’ve seen this coming (which you couldn't), there is no way anyone would’ve had Daniel Bryan being an unhinged WWE Champion ready to face off against his dream opponent, or Charlotte Flair fighting to get retribution for Becky Lynch against Ronda Rousey. Due to the brutal circumstances that led us to these destinations, it might be a bit nearsighted to say that we’ve arrived here through serendipity. However, we are here, standing on the doorstep of two iconic dream bouts all the same. And when we start to feel the reverbs of these mega matches in the weeks and months to come, we’ll point back to the Nov. 14 edition of SmackDown LIVE as the precise moment when just about everything changed for good.