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13 minutes of Basking: Looking back at Keith Lee’s massive Survivor Series splash

In the latter portion of the men’s elimination match at Survivor Series 2019, WWE made a new star.

2 hours and 18 minutes and 58 seconds into Survivor Series 2019, and Keith Lee — who’d already had worked a heck of a week and weekend — held out a hand for Tommaso Ciampa to tag. He had a look of determination mixed with gravitas. That he was ready for the match of his life.

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Lee’d had a big night already, having just recently derailed the Strowman Express. The prior evening, he and Ciampa teamed to take down The Undisputed Era at TakeOver: WarGames (his first appearance on the main card of a TakeOver event). And all of that on the heels of weeks of WWE TV, where Lee closed out shows by diving into the air — in a manner that should not be possible for a man of his stature — to demolish the Raw and SmackDown rosters.

Then, Lee was getting another signature moment with the main roster on a big PPV stage. It should have calmed my nerves, but just incensed me further. Baron Corbin cheap shotted him off the stage with a running elbow. Time sort of blurs in the following moments, with Ciampa pinning Corbin, though that just set him on the wrong side of Reigns and Rollins. The Shield brothers separately teamed up on Lee and Ciampa, and soon set the Blackheart up for a nostalgic trip back to a time before Moxley’s return.

But Keith Lee had other plans, and he just ran right through Rollins and Reigns. He knelt above the human wreckage, like a gladiator. This was not the time for us to bask, as Reigns soon knocked Lee into the stairs, and Keith’s expressive face showed the anguish of a man who was in to war for the second time in as many days.

And before we can realize what’s happened, the crowd is incensed, booing as Ciampa takes a Superman punch, a curbstomp and a stare into the lights for a count of three. And at 2 hours, 24 minutes and 5 seconds, Keith Lee became the last remaining man on team NXT. Raw’s Rollins and SmackDown’s Reigns were left to look outside the ring and await Lee, who slowly walked to the stairs and into the ring - the third man in a moment with two of the biggest names in modern WWE.

In that moment, my brain and my Twitter mentions are both ablaze. My friend Luis tweets, asking if I booked this moment. It’s not unusual to like or root for Keith Lee, or to bellow the words “OH, BASK IN HIS GLOOORRRY!” but ever since one night when Lee faced Kyle O’Reilly in Queens, I’ve been one of the loudest members of Keith’s Leegion (credit to his current entrance graphics for that).

I’ve flown to Michigan to see his last match in Evolve, taken trains to Rhode Island, and busses to Massachusetts to see his final independent dates. I cheered him on at the 2017 PWG Battle of Los Angeles, and even congratulated him in defeat, for having a smashing good weekend. During Evolve 100, I paced around La Boom singing the good words so loud that I felt like I was leading a religious moment.

And if the five minutes I already described above made my hairs stand on end, the eight that followed practically melted my brain through my ear canals. I was watching Keith Lee’s main roster debut — at Survivor Series, one of the biggest PPVs on the calendar — culminate in the Limitless One becoming a made man. The established Superstars he was facing were clearly up to their old tricks, running the numbers game, and we were going to see what my good man Keith Lee could do as the one who stood in their way.

If you told me this was going to happen prior to that moment, I hope I would have believed you. But in the months between Keith Lee appearing in the front row at this very same Chicago arena at TakeOver: Chicago II on June 16, 2018 and last Sunday night, nothing felt certain. Injuries and bad timing and a limited number of spots kept Lee off of TakeOver cards until Saturday’s WarGames match. It often appeared as if Lee was being overlooked for some other shiny new toy, as Matt Riddle became William Regal’s new favorite student. During the lower moments, I got quiet, out of a fear. I know I can take up too much oxygen in a wrestling conversation, and I didn’t want to say the wrong thing at the wrong time. But on Oct. 1, I found my voice again and said it was beyond high time to put Keith and his long-time running buddy Dijak(ovic) on a TakeOver card.

And then, while I was playing Dungeons and Dragons, thinking I didn’t have to watch the post-Crown Jewel episode of SmackDown as it aired, it all started to happen. NXT’s main roster, pre-Survivor Series invasion began, and Keith Lee was one of the first on the scene, smushing Sami Zayn with a Doomsault on Fox.

Keith Lee, on broadcast network television, at the highest level of this industry, where he’s belonged for so long. You don’t need to have watched his BOLA 2017 matches with Dijak to know this, but you should check them out anyway. You don’t need to have heard him tell an Evolve ref that a match should not end in DQ just because Kyle O’Reilly kicked “the people’s anaconda,” though I implore you to check that out, too. As the weeks progressed, Keith Lee would repeatedly show up on Raw to do Keith Lee things, diving through the air like a cruiserweight, showing the world that “Limitless” is more than just a word on a shirt.

And so, a seven nation army of fans at Survivor Series chanted for Lee as he entered the ring. If you look in the crowd behind him, you can see at least two fans “conducting” the “OH! BASK IN HIS GLORRRRRY” chant, as I had done so many months before.

Meanwhile, in the U.K., at god-knows-what-o’clock, Cultaholic’s Ross Twedell and Tom Campbell are creating a new Keith Lee chant, based on the Simple Minds song “Don’t You (Forget About Me).” As Keith Lee, of Wichita Falls, TX walked up the stairs and completed a visual triptych with the respective pillars of the men’s locker-rooms from SmackDown and Raw: Roman Reigns and Seth Rollins, this was happening...

WWE was putting a lot of its faith in Keith Lee, and there is little like watching a company show you its future. But when that company tells you that your absolute favorite pro wrestler, a man who put his arm around your back, a guy you’ve flown to different cities to support, is That Guy? I don’t know how to put this, but it’s a feeling unlike any other. I’ve seen all kinds of things in pro wrestling, but this moment stands above them all.

With a clothesline and a shoulder tackle, Keith Lee asserted himself with Reigns and Rollins, and at 2 hours, 25 minutes and 5 seconds into the PPV, he sent Crossfit Jesus across the WWE ring with a massive Beale toss. And right after those Shield boys managed to elevate him above the top rope, Lee manages to block an attack from Roman and hit a flying crossbody into the ring and knock them both down. Allstate Arena was going wild and commentator Nigel McGuinness was standing up, jumping with excitement.

Keith Lee then went for the start of his modified jackhammer, the Ground Zero as it was called on the indies, but Rollins evaded and puts a sprinkle of double in my heart with an enziguri and a superkick for good measure. Rollins climbed to the top rope, and hit a frog splash, but Keith Lee kicked out and pushed Rollins up and away. When a petulant Rollins wasted too much time complaining, his attempted curb stomp became his undoing as he ran right into the Ground Zero.

And at 2 hours, 26 minutes and 38 seconds into the PPV, Keith Lee pinned multiple-time world champion Seth Rollins clean in the middle of the ring. And as the crowd erupted, I shouted so loud someone from the next room came in to check on me. I tried to explain it, but I couldn’t string a sentence together, eventually saying “It’s good! It’s really good!”

I wasn’t wrong, as in that moment Keith Lee was placed alongside Roman Reigns, one of the biggest names in pro wrestling, as the last men standing. For Keith Lee and Roman Reigns to square off and duke it out, in the former’s first appearance on a quote-unquote main roster PPV, was no accident. It was a moment with a lot of intent behind it.

To put Lee on the same plane with a man who has main evented multiple WrestleManias? We saw that WWE might like him as much as I do. And if you look closely behind Keith Lee, you can see about 7 or 10 fans (at least) “conducting” the baskers. It’s a moment I loved to watch and was kicking myself for not being there live for.

After missing a flying kick (which, again, looks utterly impossible for a man so massive) Keith Lee took not one but two Superman Punches. And while that’s been enough to fell many a superstar, the Limitless One kicked out at 2.99999999, so close to three that Graves practically begged for an investigation (a replay proved inconclusive). Roman set up for a spear and at 2 hours, 29 minutes and 49 seconds into Survivor Series 2019, Keith Lee caught The Big Dog high in the air and slammed him back down to earth with a massive Spirit Bomb. It was so massive that both Goku and Broly are somewhere admiring his handiwork. Reigns kicked out at 2.99999999, as the crowd popped again, and you could see fans clutching their faces in shock.

Keith Lee fluidly transitioned to the Doomsault, but he found no water in the pool upon his return to Earth. Reigns hit a spear that ended the match. Fans on their feet, everyone watched these two Superstars proverbially lick their wounds and get closer to standing upright. Reigns, though, shook his head, as if he’d been surprised and impressed, and nodded up and down, as if to give his approval. Humbly, Keith Lee walked closer to Roman and gave him a short bow, as if to congratulate him on the victory.

And if you were wondering where I was going with my clock-watching, at 2 hours, 31 minutes, and 44 seconds into the show, Roman Reigns extended his fist for a pound of respect. That gesture from Reigns carries a mighty importance if you look over his career (even with the moments where someone outside of The Shield filled one of the vacancies). Lee didn’t meet his fist immediately, but Reigns nodded again, encouraging Keith.

The crowd, recognizing the importance, quieted a bit, before building to a pop. You can hear people whistling at the 2:31:51 mark, as the previous 13 minutes (approximately) saw WWE give Keith Lee the biggest welcome party we’ve seen in ages. And in that moment, a euphoria washed over me.

From that moment on, I have not stop thinking about Keith Lee’s future.

This week, he’s reuniting The MonStars with Dijakovic for a shot at the NXT Tag Team Championships against The Undisputed Era, but my brain is already aiming at bigger moments. The word is that Vince McMahon loves Keith Lee. I don’t know what’s in Keith’s future, but everything in my brain is telling me I should be checking the price of tickets to Tampa Bay in April.

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