(Almost) 5-Star Match Reviews: Brock Lesnar vs. Daniel Bryan – WWE Survivor Series 2018

wwe survivor series 2008 brock lesnar daniel bryan

It doesn’t get any closer to ‘David vs. Goliath’ than this in WWE.

This was an interesting clash between two of the biggest stars in WWE. For one of them that was only metaphorical while for the other it was both metaphorical and literal. And even more strangely, Bryan entered this match as a freshly-turned heel while Lesnar was such a one-trick pony at this point in time that some fans would chant ‘same old s**t’ at. In other words, it was hard to tell how fans would react to this fresh match-up. Would they cheer Goliath and boo David? Would old habits stay in place with Bryan being the beloved underdog against Paul Heyman’s Beast? Or would both of them get booed in a strange repeat of WrestleMania XX? There was only one way to find out.

Today we look back at the (non-title) champion vs. champion match between Brock Lesnar and Daniel Bryan from Survivor Series 2018.

As a reminder, I am reviewing Five Star and almost-Five Star wrestling matches as rated by Wrestling Observer’s Dave Meltzer. It goes back to the 1980s and I’m going to pick different matches from different eras to see how they look today. Check out previous entries in my 5 Star Match Reviews series right here.

The story

In keeping with the inter-brand warfare gimmick central to Survivor Series, a champion vs. champion match was booked between RAW and SmackDown. Lesnar represented RAW as the Universal Champion while Bryan represented SmackDown as WWE Champion. Bryan beat AJ Styles on the final SmackDown before Survivor Series to become champion after Styles’ reign surpassed one year in length. And since Styles faced Lesnar at the previous year’s Survivor Series, WWE decided to have someone else face (read: be sacrificed to) Lesnar this year.

It was a fresh match-up to be sure, but there was still a sense of uncertainty around it. As I mentioned earlier, neither wrestler was a clear-cut face or heel here. Bryan had just turned and Lesnar always got mixed reactions aside from during his entrance. Fan reaction aside, this was bound to be interesting given the wrestling styles we were about to see clash. There was no way Bryan would be able to throw Lesnar while Lesnar shouldn’t have any trouble doing that to Bryan. In other words, imagine playing a pre-2K WWE video game with weight class differences and you’re Rey Mysterio trying to lift The Big Show. That’s more or less the kind of limitation Bryan found himself dealing with here, so he’d have to come up with a different strategy if he wanted to survive (there was no way he was winning here unless he benefitted from a Kane-like act of God).

The match

This match originally took place on November 18th, 2018. It was rated ****1/2 out of five by the Wrestling Observer’s Dave Meltzer. It was rated ****1/4 by TJRWrestling’s John Canton as well.

The bell rings and Bryan lands a running dropkick to Lesnar’s knee. He sends the next minute outside the ring avoiding and mocking Lesnar much to the crowd’s amusement. Bryan goes for another kick but Lesnar catches his leg and clotheslines him hard. German suplex #1. Bryan sells like he’s barely conscious. Lesnar drags his carcass and then hits German #2. He pulls Bryan up by his head and lands an overhead belly-to-belly suplex. Lesnar follows with two more soon after that send Bryan flying across the ring. Lesnar throws Bryan out of the ring, into the barricade, and then back into the ring, all without breaking a sweat. Bryan rolls back out of the ring thinking he’s safe, but Lesnar catches up and launches him into the barricade once more. Lesnar lifts Bryan into a bearhug and then ragdolls him as the commentators talk in ‘serious voices’ expressing concern for Bryan’s wellbeing. Lesnar hits German #3, applies bearhug #2, and launches Bryan will belly-to-belly #4. F-5 by Lesnar. Lesnar covers. One, two, and Lesnar breaks up his own pin. He’s just toying with Bryan at this point.

Lesnar displays a seemingly-dead Bryan like a trophy but Bryan starts hitting kicks from the canvas. This angers Lesnar so he goes for another F-5. He swings Bryan and Bryan knocks out the referee on his way down. Bryan lands on his feet and kicks Lesnar’s groin.

Bryan follows with a running knee out of nowhere. He covers Lesnar. One, two, and Lesnar barely kicks out. Bryan kicks Lesnar as hard as he can and then switches to his ROH-style arm-trap stomps to the collar. Bryan charges again. Lesnar lifts him up for the F-5. Bryan escapes and ducks down to send Lesnar to the floor. Bryan goes for a plancha to the floor. Lesnar catches him with ease. Lesnar prepares to smash Bryan into the ringpost. Bryan escapes and Lesnar hits the post instead. Bryan hits a running knee from the apron. Bryan gets up first and goes for a suicide dive. Lesnar catches him this time and drives Bryan back-first into the ringpost. Twice. Lesnar grabs the steel ringsteps and goes to hit Bryan with them. Bryan dodges so Lesnar hits the ringpost with the steps and hurts himself in the process. Another running knee from the apron by Bryan. Both guys stiff each other with kicks as they re-enter the ring. Running knee #4. Lesnar kicks out at two. Lesnar gets up but Bryan clips the same knee he targeted earlier. Bryan smashes Lesnar’s leg into the ringpost and then lands a diving shotgun dropkick. Bryan follows with two successful corner dropkicks and charges for a third. Lesnar goes for an F-5 to counter but collapses from exhaustion. Bryan counters into the crossface. Lesnar uses his power to break Bryan’s grip but Bryan hits back with forearms to Lesnar’s head and then reapplies the hold. Lesnar fights out a second time and tries a pin but Bryan kicks out. Bryan tries a triangle choke but Lesnar counters into an F-5. One, two, and three! There’s the match!

Winner after 18:43: Brock Lesnar


This was the wrestling version of the ‘they had us in the first half, not gonna lie’ meme. The commentators were right; during the first half, this really was like watching an apex predator toying with his prey before putting it out of its misery. It was like seeing a coyote pick a fight with a grizzly bear and then the grizzly mauled the coyote for a while, only for the coyote to make one last-ditch effort at survival before succumbing. It seemed like Lesnar was having a night off since Bryan wasn’t putting up any fight whatsoever. Then Lesnar’s own cockiness bit him in the ass and Bryan got this ridiculous second wind that turned things around for him in a major way. the first half was a tad boring and predictable, then things turned around in the second half, and finally the finish sort of came out of nowhere yet still managed to be totally predictable.

There was very little depth in terms of wrestling here. Lesnar did exactly as expected early on with his suplexes and bearhugs and manhandled Bryan with ease. And once Bryan found his opening, he went low and spammed finishers and running attacks because that’s all he could do. Adopting a hit-and-run strategy was the only chance he had here. And once it started working, Bryan started giving off this sense of hope that caused the fans to rally behind him. Even though he was a heel, fans wanted to see Bryan beat Lesnar. What seemed like an impossibility moments earlier now had the slimmest chance of actually coming true. As Bryan hit knee after knee, kick after kick, Lesnar started crumbling. He was like a giant tree and Bryan was like the axe chopping at the base. Then when Lesnar tried to counter a running kick into an F-5, his own strength gave out. Lesnar’s strength advantage, the one thing that carried him for most of the match, was gone. So when Bryan locked in his crossface, it truly looked like Bryan was going to make Lesnar tap out. But Lesnar managed one last burst of strength that allowed him to basically deadlift Bryan onto his shoulders for a successful F-5.

Bryan did lose in the end but he actually told an awesome story that makes this an entertaining match. He baited Lesnar into thinking he was this helpless little troll that had no chance and Lesnar fell for it. Lesnar let his own arrogance get the best of him which allowed Bryan to make a comeback and actually hurt Lesnar. Bryan did such a great job that he convinced many people that he actually might win. Lesnar was in such dire straits that he might’ve tapped out to Bryan’s crossface had he not powered out when he did.

Final Rating: ****1/4

Lesnar gets lots of flak for not really giving a s**t about wrestling, but there are some rare occasions when he actually puts more effort in and the results are great. This was one such a case. Lesnar clearly respected Bryan, so much so that he sold his ass off for Bryan for the second half of the match,

This match was surprisingly great thanks to how well the bait-and-switch was executed. When Lesnar started toying with Bryan I thought the match was going to turn into another version of Lesnar/Cena from SummerSlam 2014 that was nothing more than a protracted squash. What we got instead was an actually competitive David vs. Goliath match that had one long control segment from each side followed by an intense and competitive finish. This was way better than I thought it’d be. It showed that Lesnar really can be compelling to watch, even if he has become a one-trick pony.

Thanks for reading. You can email me with any questions or comments, and be sure to check out my 5-Star and Almost 5-Star Match Reviews series here.