WWE SURVIVOR SERIES ON-SITE REPORT (10/25): Dehnel’s detailed report on his experience in Chicago for Punk’s return, WarGames, Miz popularity, more

By Joel Dehnel, PWTorch contributor


NOVEMBER 25, 2023

Chicagoland (and those who drive there) continue to be the benefactors of the AEW and WWE battle for market supremacy. AEW returned earlier in the week with their Thanksgiving Eve tradition. On Saturday, WWE’s Survivor Series stole all the news and headlines with the return of AEW’s former favorite Chicago resident.

As a wannabe Chicago fan from the Twin Cities, I make the drive for major shows if the lineup looks intriguing or there is the possibility of major news. Each time I’ve made the 6.5-hour trip, it’s been for AEW or New Japan. This was the first for WWE.

It wasn’t speculation of C.M. Punk, but genuine interest in seeing the WWE product in this market. I’d dismissed the rumors and the possibility of an appearance. I was more inclined to take in a show at their Chicago home base, Allstate Arena. After attending multiple shows at the NOW arena, Wintrust Arena, United Center, and multiple suburban field houses and gymnasiums.

Allstate Arena, formerly Rosemont Horizon, is much older than the other arenas in the market, and it shows. The small hallways and chaotic parking lot were difficult to navigate with traffic. Particularly when leaving, lines of cars were stuck behind parked vehicles in the exit driveways. WrestleMania 13 and 22 were held in the same building. It’s amazing, given the stadiums they run today. The sections are structured to feel close and intimate to the action, similar to the feelings I had at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.

“Whooos!” and “Yeah!” chants permeated the arena as they do for most shows. Chants for Punk were present but quickly drowned out with overwhelming boos. My interpretation of this was less of fans voicing their displeasure for Phil Brooks. It felt more like preventing a segment from ruining their enjoyment with false expectations. This crowd is more compliant with what WWE offers. Gone are the days of the audience detracting from the product and now accepting what is given. I attribute this to a portion of the audience leaving for AEW and Paul Levesque righting many of the McMahon wrongs in booking.

There’s minimal music, ads, and hype before the show went live. It feels like a missed opportunity to keep the crowd engaged and pumped up before the show. Imagine any pro sport throwing out the pre-game ceremony and getting straight to the intros and action.

As expected, the over 17,000 people in attendance were hot to kick off the show. WarGames is difficult to see in person. With two rings, cage, lights, and partial blockage of the video screen, the match doesn’t pack the same punch as it may have when watching the television production. The women’s match got the shiny novelty of the WarGames stipulation, whereas the men’s match lacked that specialty. The biggest surprise here was how much the crowd was into Charlotte Flair. Almost all other crowds I’ve been a part of have given her neutral, mixed, or severely negative reactions (especially as a face). This time, she and this crowd were on board with her direction.

Miz and Gunther were the pleasant surprise of the night as far as in-ring action. Gunther has a unique style that allows him to stand apart from the other talent on the roster. Leading up to the match, Miz didn’t stand a chance to dethrone Gunther. Credit to how both men worked the match, giving fans an ounce or more of belief that Miz could pull it off. This was by far the most pro-Miz crowd I’ve seen. Take that for what you will, Chicago.

I’d hoped for more from Santos Escobar vs. Dragon Lee. The crowd took this one as an opportunity to visit the restroom and concession stands. The match never rose to the level of excitement one would hope for when Lee replaced Carlito. This accomplished its goal of further establishing Santos character but left much to be desired from what fans are used to seeing from Lucha stars in other contexts.

Unlike the Miz-Gunther match, there wasn’t much in the way of the idea that Zoey Stark would pull off an upset. The crowd still loves Ripley, but they were ready for a match of more consequence.

The men’s WarGames match was plagued by the same issue as these other match stipulations shows. They almost always have one for the men’s and another for the women’s. The second time you see it the same night, it loses some of that luster. There was still a strong crowd throughout. Steam really picked up on the “Punk” chants to a point where it became difficult to drown them out. WWE had been teasing Randy Orton not being at the show. An odd choice given they kept featuring him in the videos leading up. It naturally fueled more speculation, chants, and expectations for Punk.

Holding off on Orton’s music did lead to a massive pop after missing the last year and a half. Orton was in tremendous shape, which was accentuated when he hit his signature spots. The misdirection with Rhea Ripley didn’t detract from the pop to come.

The match itself felt short and left a lot to be desired for what we’ve seen in past WarGames.

While the faces celebrated in front of the crowd, Punk’s music hit. The wrestlers in the ring looked confused, while the crowd lost their minds. From where I sat, it was not easy to see all the wrestlers’ reactions. Fancam videos on Twitter later showed Drew McIntyre storming out and Seth Rollins cussing out Punk and flipping the bird. Whether these reactions are a shoot or work remains to be seen. Either way, they’ve sparked a great deal of conversation.

This was a major return and a moment to be a part of for the crowd reaction. Those boos from earlier had morphed into stronger cheers. This was different from the debut episode of Rampage, where it was strongly hinted at but not advertised. Punk supporters were hopeful but had low expectations. Although he’s been in the spotlight and in wrestling, this was different because of the long-documented bad blood with the company and many they still employ. Even if this all blows up, like it has before, he joins an exclusive list of unlikely returns with Bret Hart, Bruno Sammartino, and Ultimate Warrior.

The news and speculation that follow are what have me most fascinated by the situation. WWE has made it clear they won’t allow AEW to dominate the Chicagoland market. The glowing feeling amongst fans was similar to that of many of the major AEW shows. They just have to be careful that the Punk situation doesn’t end the way it did for AEW and soften their standing.

RECOMMENDED NEXT: Paul “Triple” Levesque says WWE fans wanted Punk back so “let’s go and we’ll figure out the rest from there,” comments on timetable, past issues

OR CHECK THIS OUT AT PROWRESTLING.NET: WWE Survivor Series WarGames results: Powell’s review of Randy Orton, Seth Rollins, Cody Rhodes, Jey Uso, and Sami Zayn vs. Drew McIntyre and The Judgment Day in a WarGames match, Women’s WarGames match

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