Well here we are again, at an often wild juncture on the road to WrestleMania. In the past Elimination Chamber (or whatever PPV occupies the February slot) has struggled to stand on its own and distinguish itself, rather than feeling either like filler or a joining of the dots appetiser for what’s to come. And we still have Fastlane in March before the big double-nighter Mania this year! However, after last year’s Elimination Chamber (the last WWE PPV with live fans in attendance) proved to be a head-to-toe cracker, maybe this year’s would follow suit and add a third notch in WWE’s recent run of class PPV affairs.
Admittedly it didn’t seem that way going in, with a few announced matches feeling up in the air, a slim card, and some switching and swapping going on with plans as we headed towards the ominous steel structure that gave the event it’s title. So, was this a night when Mania plans became crystal clear and when all was set in motion, and most importantly of all did it wow us and light an even bigger fire under the biggest season in WWE?
Well, it might be easier to get into the details rather than say yay or nay to any of those questions!
1. (Kick-Off show) Fatal – 4 – Way To Determine Who Enters The US Title Triple Threat Later Tonight.
Mustafa Ali w/Retribution vs. John Morrison vs. Ricochet vs. Elias
I was pulling for Mustafa Ali here and I like that he brought his Retribution crew to ringside with him, and this was an energetic little kick-off contest here. All four men got in some fast and furious moves and the pace kept going from start to finish. Ali/Retribution deserve a big Mania moment this year, and Ricochet remains underrated but I’d say they both had the spotlight here. In fact Ricochet had the win a number of times but thanks to the masked system smashers Retribution, he came up short. Though so did Ali, who was distracted by his momentary upper hand gain, which allowed John Morrison to roll him up for the win! Good finish and nice way to rebuild the triple threat after previous third man Keith Lee had to pull out due to injury (heartbreaking!).
The opening video package bigs up the brutal Chamber structure and the impact on the road to WrestleMania, as well as every match having title implications tonight.
2. Smackdown Elimination Chamber (Winner Faces Roman Reigns for the Universal Championship Tonight)
Daniel Bryan vs. Jey Uso vs. Cesaro vs. King Corbin vs. Kevin Owens vs. Sami Zayn
King Corbin kind of stuck out here and I’m unsure why that spot didn’t go to Shinsuke Nakamura but all the same Corbin got some decent licks in despite being eliminated first. This was the match of the night for me. A fantastic Chamber match which became quite unpredictable with the shock elimination of odds on favourite Kevin Owens. Sami Zayn’s antics playing up to his brilliant conspiracy theorist character were highly entertaining and Cesaro (who has to be on the verge of a long overdue run here) was the MVP of the match, absolutely excellent workhorse wrestling from the Swiss Superman (he even did a pull up on the roof of the structure, the man’s a machine!) and from Daniel Bryan (of course). Both Bryan and Cesaro started the match and lasted nearly the whole way. But in the end it came down to Jey Uso and Bryan (beautifully selling a ravaged leg injury for most of the match). It was a bit of a pick ‘em come the later stages of the contest but a running knee saw to it that Bryan got the hard fought win over Roman’s cousin/henchman…
3. WWE Universal Championship Match
Roman Reigns (c) vs. Daniel Bryan
…But no rest for the weary, as the Tribal Chief came straight on out for the WWE Universal Championship defence immediately after the match. Now, we all knew it would play out like this, with Roman Reigns’ short cut taking mobster boss character going the easy route for a win and Bryan getting a brief (and I mean brief) “wait, can he do it moment”. And as such this just felt kind of pointless and too predictable. Why not have the Chamber be a #1 contenders match for Fastlane? I mean, I think they’ll do Bryan vs. Reigns anyway, this just seemed like filler. Anyway after Reigns escaped an unconvincing final flurry from an exhausted Bryan, he then hammered the leader of the Yes movement and choked him out for the easy win and that was that. Until, after the match – as predicted – Edge speared Roman and made his choice for WtrestleMania. Roman vs. Edge is official (Michael Cole made sure to tell us that just in case the spear and sign point wasn’t enough). At least we’ll have this moment to enjoy and look back upon when Reigns inevitably beats the latest “put Roman over at Mania foe” Edge. Look Roman is on the run of his career but I feel this match was the wrong choice for a whole plethora of reasons (story, logic, booking) but hopefully something comes out of it other than the lame “it’s spear vs spear” angle (which is really the only justification for making this match).
WWE 24/7 Champion Bad Bunny (yes, really) was chatting with Sonya Deville backstage before The Miz interrupted and got the taste slapped out of his mouth by Bunny in return. Here’s your celebrity WrestleMania match this year folks!
4. WWE United States Championship Triple Threat Match
Lashley (c) w/ MVP vs. John Morrison vs. Riddle
Lashley entered beast mode here and it was probably his best match in months, as he was allowed to do more and he looked unstoppable, to the point Morrison and Riddle had to tentatively team up to keep him down. I enjoyed this, it was a back and forth clash between speed and raw power. Plus, it seemed certain Lashley would retain his gold but, that was shockingly not the case. Thanks to a funny confrontation between Morrison and MVP, where Morrison grabbed MVP’s leg support crutch and brought it in the ring. It left Riddle with his chance to clobber the dominant champ (as he had Morrison locked in his full nelson submission) with the weapon and go for the victory on a weakened Morrison. Riddle is the new champ and I liked how he shot out of there before a furious Lashley could grab him too. Wise man. Lashley’s booking here makes me think they have big Mania plans for him this year…more on that later.
Prior to this match Sasha Banks and Bianca Belair were interviewed, dropping more hints about maybe it being them at Mania (come on?! We all know, make the match!), and once again Carmella’s right hand wine preparer Reginald lent his support to Sasha, interesting.
5. WWE Women’s Tag Team Championship Match
Shayna Baszler and Nia Jax (c) vs. Bianca Belair and Sasha Banks
This would play a part later in the match itself as Banks and Belair really took it to the dominant Women’s tag champions and got incredibly near to a win. However Reginald passing Sasha a champagne bottle to use as a weapon caused the distraction necessary that allowed Nia Jax to lay out Banks to retain her and Shayna Baszler’s gold. I’m glad really, I like Nia and Shayna and we don’t need any more unnecessary filler reigns with these belts. So match did what it needed to. Not sure where this whole Reginald thing is going really.
Backstage MVP and The Miz were talking, presumably about Miz’s Money in the Bank briefcase. Hmmm.
Just to point this out, WWE Raw Women’s Champion Asuke was scheduled to take on Lacey Evans on this event but with Evans’ pregnancy announcement we all knew that wasn’t happening. What’s odd though is that on the kick-off show they suggested there would be a replacement and guessed who it would be. Yet nothing happened. No mention of the match, Asuke, or anything at all. Really odd and another disappointing entry into this dead title run for the empress, it has been a really drab reign sadly for a great competitor who deserves more chance to shine!
6. WWE Championship Elimination Chamber Match
Drew McIntyre (c) vs. AJ Styles w/Omos vs. Randy Orton vs. Jeff Hardy vs. Kofi Kingston vs. Sheamus
This was the match I was most looking forward to and which had the greatest opportunity for major events occurring. Sadly, despite the action being decent, I felt this was a rather disappointing Chamber match. Far from bad but the structure of this match made little logical sense. There were some nice touches, like Kofi Kingston checking his back before entering the Chamber (nice nod to old history there) or Omos tearing AJ Styles’ plexiglass wall off so he could enter the match early and try and eliminate his floored opponents ahead of the the door release. But overall it felt less impactful than the earlier Smackdown Chamber match. Randy Orton’s shocking early elimination was a big thing I guess but almost seemed accidental and no Fiend appearance made you wonder why they did this at all? While the Drew McIntyre and Sheamus face-off was intense, it did mean that this personal feud has kind of being squeezed in and glossed over too and I’m unsure where they go next. Additionally there was no Ali/Retribution appearance to stop KofiMania II, which felt like a missed opportunity to give that rivalry a bigger platform. It was just a match of missed opportunities and yet another Chamber match that will unfortunately be forgotten in the structure’s ever increasing history. That said the finale between AJ, McIntyre and Sheamus was well played out and Drew would catch AJ mid-air with an impressive Claymore for a good looking win. Well, that is until Lashley appeared on the scene and brutalised McIntyre after he retained his belt, and then…
7. WWE Championship Match
Drew McIntyre (c) vs. The Miz
…”Awesome”, yep, you guessed it, out came Miz with his Briefcase (this time he cashed it in personally not Morrison, hence avoiding another TLC fake-out) and cashed it in. Drew put up a fight but these cash-ins rarely go well for match length or champ, and after a skull crushing finale, Drew was down and out, and 10 years on The Miz is WWE Champion again!! Now, many have gone mental over this online (why? When it looked like he failed to cash-in at TLC they went mad then too?! You can’t win) but I liked it, Miz has worked hard and deserves a reward and he has developed over these years into a great entertainer (alongside Morrison especially). The only gripe I have is that this is so crushingly obviously a transitional title run, I mean they have bigged up this Bad Bunny thing so early that there’s no way Miz holds this belt until Mania, hell he may even not make Fastlane, heck he may not even get through Raw tonight! But that said, it’s nice to see hard work and loyalty rewarded.
Overall, a mixed bag of a show. Things got moving but I feel the effectiveness of Elimination Chamber will depend on what happens from here on out. I’m really not sure I’m feeling this year’s Mania build at this stage but there is plenty of time for it to come together and Elimination Chamber certainly tried to divert the traffic, so to speak, on the road to WWE’s show of shows. Edge/Roman while increasingly obvious as WWE’s choice, is a problematic WM main event for me but I’ll give it a chance, and Lashley looks to unexpectedly be in the WWE title picture (I hope they go Brock Lesnar/Lashley or something because I feel like this year needs some star power!). But at this point I’m really only mega excited for what they’ll do with The Fiend and Orton, hopefully more interesting layers are added from tonight onwards. Elimination Chamber had its moments but felt like it missed a few opportunities and while not a bad event, it was certainly a big come down from the previous two stellar WWE PPV offerings (TLC, Royal Rumble). See ya next month for more!
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