Was it predictable? Absolutely. Was it watchable? Definitely.
Last night, WWE took its first pit stop on the “Road to WrestleMania”(R) at The Elimination Chamber and it was…fine. I’m not really sure what to say — this was one of, if not THE most predictable events in the history of the WWE. The outcomes for most of the matches were fairly foregone conclusions, with the result of the main event being so obvious that Dave Meltzer put in stone more than a year ago. Does that mean the show was bad? No. I mean, 3 out of 5 matches (and the pre-show) were Raw reruns with clean endings, but there was some competent wrestling at points and a few strong performances that made this into…well, like a better-than-average episode Raw. How did this event stack up to those better-than-average episodes of Raw?
- Not a programming note, but this event was held on Ric Flair’s 69th birthday. I can’t even imagine an event that is more chill than that.
- Booker T is on the panel and they drop little allusions to his phony beef with Corey Graves all throughout his time there. Dude may have worked the entire wrestling industry, but he still can’t seem to work out the timing on commentary. He tries to revive his Shucky Ducky Quack Quack segment but sets up the comment a solid 30 seconds before he’s back on camera. Not a great look, Book.
- Kurt Angle cuts an interview about both Elimination Chamber matches and picks Alexa to retain and names Ro, Stro and Seth as his most likely to win. Renee then asks him if he thinks John Cena could still make it to WrestleMania if he loses and dude legitimately laughs, essentially responding with the TV-PG Equivalent of “Of course! What, are you high?”
- Our only pre-show match pits the Good Brothers against the only team they can routinely beat, the Miztourage. Guess how it ends? Immediately after Anderson scores the pin they cut to an interview with the Revival. That’s not hyperbole, by the way. Cole is seriously announcing the interview before the Club’s music starts. Don’t worry if you missed it, though. They cut Dash and Dawson off after 15 seconds anyway, so nothing actually got said in this exchange.
Alexa Bliss (c) vs. Bayley vs. Mandy Rose vs. Mickie James vs. Sasha Banks vs. Sonya Deville (first-ever women’s Elimination Chamber match for the Raw Women’s Championship)
Of all the “historic” moments in women’s wrestling the WWE has been making a big deal about in recent years, the first women’s Elimination Chamber is one of the more underwhelming. Like this whole show, it’s not that it was bad, it just felt like a long Raw match with a couple of interesting points of note peppered throughout. Some of those include:
- Absolution comes out together in matching white gear and it looks great. If these two are effectively going to be a tag team, I like the idea of them having matching gear.
- Also looking good? Sonya Deville’s striking. Not every move she hits is crisp, but more than half of her strikes were so beautifully devastating that they looked like they belonged in NJPW. Sonya’s not great with talking or facial expressions, but if she can tighten up her athleticism so every move hits with the same Daniel Bryan-esque snap some of her knees and lariats land with, she could be a revelation in the women’s division.
- Anyway, Bayley and Sonya start, then Mandy comes in, then Sasha. Once the Horsewomen entered the match it was time to say goodnight for our former Tough Enough alums. Mandy was made to tap out to the Bank Statement, and though Sonya lasted a bit longer, she was the lone victim of Mickie James’ (admittedly great) offensive run mid-match. Sure, it was to a diving Lou Thesz press-like thing from atop the pod, but it was still sad to see the MMA fighter go out so quickly.
- Speaking of going out quickly, Mickie James looked amazing out there (and not just because of her new ring gear) but was knocked out entirely too quickly. Still groggy from the maneuver that eliminated Deville, Micky stands up into a backstabber that drives her into the arms of a Bayley to Belly and a pin. Still, this was the best James has looked since she returned to the company nearly two years ago.
- Look, in addition to being a talented performer, Sasha Banks is a beautiful woman. That being said, she desperately needs to figure out her weave situation. It seems like every one of these big matches ends with her hairline floating somewhere behind her ears, and there just has to be a solution for this issue. It’s seriously about four minutes into this match before she looks like Reginald VelJohnson in a purple wig. Sort yourself out, WWE.
The real story of the match, as much as there is one, is the growing conflict between Sasha and Bayley. After running from her opponents for a few minutes, Sasha manages to trap Bliss atop one of the pods and get a few strikes in. As soon as Bayley starts to climb the chamber to help her friend out, Banks betrays her like Scar in The Lion King and boots the Hugger straight to the ground. I don’t think you can count this as a heel turn, but Sasha was definitely a lot more vicious with her long-time friend than she had been in the past. There were a lot of stiff(ish) strikes and one moment where the Boss actually screamed “I’m better than you!” in Bayley’s face. Eventually, Bayley gets babyfaces up and hits a Bret’s rope Bayley to Belly on Banks, only for Bliss to run in and rollup the Hugger for the pin and the elimination. I’ll never get why you would bother to do this. If you’re Alexa, you have a much better record against Bayley than Banks, so why not let her get the pin and THEN pounce? But I digress.
The ending sequence is actually a pretty great back and forth between the two remaining women, and proof of concept that a steel cage bout between Banks and Bliss would work. Eventually Banks tries to climb the cage to hit another (sloppy looking) frog splash, but Bliss catches her and drives her face-first into the lexan. From there, she hits a draping DDT from the top rope to pin Sasha and retain her title. Afterward, Alexa cuts a pretty good babyface promo, complete with crocodile tears and says that this was proof that you can achieve your dreams…but that the fans in attendance will never actually do that. It actually got a pretty great response from the crowd, which was hot and cold all night, but really responded to Bliss’ pseudo swerve.
Overall, this was fine. Short of a few dives from Bliss, Banks and James, it was light on memorable moments — which, to be fair, is pretty typical of Chamber matches. Hopefully the next ladies’ Chamber bout leaves a bit more of a lasting impression.
Cesaro and Sheamus (c) vs. Titus O’Neil and Apollo for the Raw Tag Team Championships
Man, did WWE not have any hopes for this one. You want to know how I know? In addition to waiting till Thursday to announce this one, the production team couldn’t even be bothered to work up a video package for the match. To be fair, they could run Black Panther before this match and I don’t think it would get people to care. Shoot, Apollo arguably turned on Titus after he and Nia lost their Mixed Match Challenge match, and there’s no sign of dissension here. Oh well, if you’ve seen one of these matches you’ve seen them all. Apollo takes all the heat, eventually tags in Titus. Titus barks, hits some sloppy power moves, The Bar remembers they’re in there with the modern equivalent of Tekno Team 2000 and hits their tandem finish for the win.
I know there have been some mixed reactions to the end of the branded PPV era, but matches like this are specifically why I think it’s a good idea. How much would you have rather have seen AJ Styles or the Usos or Charlotte than this Raw afterthought? Sure, it means guys like Cesaro may struggle a bit to make it on to a PPV card, but it’s not like they’re doing anything worthwhile for him to do at this point. This is one of three matches on the card that we’ve already seen a few times before and that I honestly did not need to see again, and it really sank the middle of this PPV. Like those other matches, all the people involved performed admirably, it’s just nearly impossible to care. Even with Dana taking stats on the outside.
Asuka vs. Nia Jax (If Nia Jax wins, she will be added to the Raw Women’s Championship match at WrestleMania)
This is another match that we’ve already seen, and for the life of me, I can’t figure out why we needed it again. On the one hand you’ve got Asuka, your golden ram with a 2-year undefeated streak who is coming off a dominant win in the first ever women’s Royal Rumble match that has guaranteed her place in the title scene at WrestleMania. On the other hand you’ve got Nia Jax, the most physically dominant woman on either roster who has been on a tear of late, wrecking people left and right. No matter who wins, you ruin the other’s mystique right before your biggest show of the year. Either Asuka loses and her streak ends on a (let’s be real) C-list PPV to no real fanfare or impact, or Nia loses and looks like a total chump at a time that you need all your heels to look like absolute monsters to be overcome. This match tried to have its cake and eat it too and ended up making Asuka look like a joke, even in defeat.
As far as the action is concerned, this was a good showing for Nia. She ragdolled Asuka, tanked some serious shots and showcased a lot of the aggression that she’s been lacking over the past few years. She looked like a world beater right up until she got rolled up for a sneaky pin. Asuka, who didn’t get off a ton of offense in this match, looked haggard when she won, really selling Jax’s power spots and destructive nature — and that would have been fine. So, of course, WWE instead had Jax then steamroll Asuka after the match and make her look like an absolute joke. Yeah, it looked pretty boss when Nia trucked Asuka through the barricade (I thought female superstars couldn’t equip “Barricade Breaker”), but did I need the undefeated ass kicker who is so far above every other member of the roster that she hasn’t lost since she joined the company all but stretchered out of an inconsequential tiff as we head into WrestleMania? I imagine that Nia will get her receipt on an episode of Raw between now and Mania, but again, why kill your monster’s mystique before your biggest show? If this is a ploy to put her in the title match at Mania, why not put her in the Chamber and let her mow down the undercard en route to a title shot? I feel like they’re wasting both of these women, and it just should not be that hard to craft a better story when you have two performers the caliber of Nia (who has improved so much since her last tiff with the Empress of Tomorrow in NXT) and Asuka (whose mystique suffers from getting absolutely demolished, even in victory).
Matt Hardy vs. Bray Wyatt
Speaking of matches that won’t be on these shows once they go dual-brand, here’s a brawl between two drunk dads in the parking lot of a Monster Magnet concert. Much like The Bar Vs. Titus Worldwide, this is a match we’ve seen a bunch of times already — and much like that match, no one in the crowd cared about this one. There are seriously chants for beach balls (boo!) and Rusev Day (Yay!) within the first five minutes of the match, and nothing gets better. It’s so weird that the WWE brought in Matt Hardy, a man who was once the hottest thing in wrestling because of home videos he shot in his backyard about his wife tossing babies, dilapidated boats, and vengeful lawn mowing, and have reduced him to just a dude that laughs while wearing a fu-manchu jacket. WWE hired Jeremy Borash a month ago — give him a steady cam and like $200 for fireworks and watch those two put together a spectacle that will make people actually like a Bray Wyatt match.
But no, instead we got yet another match in this seemingly never ending feud about…I dunno, whose ancient spirit nonsense is better? Whose laugh is more obnoxious? Who looks more like a night manager of Hot Topic? Whatever the case, Matt wins this one clean with a Twist of Fate in a way that almost certainly assures that the payoff for this feud is still to come. Goodie. Hopefully WWE has been dragging this out for so long just to premiere the WWE’s version of The Final Deletion at WrestleMania(‘s pre-show, if we’re honest with ourselves) and we don’t just sit through another boring match between the worst-booked guy in wrestling and the guy that could turn that stigma on its head if you’d just let him shoot Wyatt with some goddamn fireworks.
Ronda Rousey signs her WWE Raw contract
Earlier, when I called this show “one of, if not THE most predictable events in WWE history” I wasn’t kidding. Not only did AiPT! Editor-In-Chief Patrick Ross nail every single match outcome in our recent predictions piece, he even correctly predicted how this contract signing was going to go. I mean, admittedly all of us on that panel correctly guessed that this whole todo was just a means of setting up Ronda’s Mania match, and all of us assumed it would be in some kind of mixed tag against Stephanie McMahon and her husband, but come on. Let me have this.
Anyway, this was fine for what it was worth. Kurt’s tattling on the Authority feels a little out of place, and Trips may have oversold the ura nage that Ronda threw on him, but this was largely painless and relatively quick. We’re gonna see Ronda and Kurt put a hurting on the Haitch family at Mania and then WWE will have to scramble to find ways to protect Ronda from being exposed for the first year hobbyist wrestler she actually is. Hopefully all that “she’s picking it up fast” talk from all of WWE’s promotional materials isn’t just blowing smoke and we don’t end up Nathan Jonesing the former UFC Bantamweight champion. Now if only she would drop “Bad Reputation” for a cooler theme song. No offense to Joan Jett, but that song belongs in the trailer for teen comedies, not as the entrance music to possibly the most celebrated fighter since Mike Tyson.
Braun Strowman vs. Elias vs. Finn Balor vs. John Cena vs. Roman Reigns vs. Seth Rollins vs. The Miz (Elimination Chamber match; winner faces Brock Lesnar for the Universal Championship at WrestleMania)
So yeah, Roman won. We knew this was coming more than a year ago, so there was no surprise in the outcome — and there were a couple of good things about the way this match played out. With the exception of Elias (whose greatest contribution to the match came before the bell), everyone got a moment to shine, but none brighter than Braun Strowman. The Brauny man went on one hell of a tear once he entered the match, eliminating five of the seven men in the match and setting a record that will never be broken in the process. Along the way, dude ate everyone (but Miz’s or Elias’s) finisher, some more than once, and looked every bit the monster he has claimed to be. This is a match where everyone left talking about Braun. They’ll cite his eliminations whenever they discuss Chambers in the future; clips of it will appear on Strowman’s Hall of Fame video package; it was another highlight in what has been a banner year for the abominable Strowman…and it was a match he lost.
Honestly, this booking is a double edged sword. On the one hand, Braun looks great. On the other, you had him destroy the entire main event scene only to then get pinned cleanly by Roman. Look, we all know Roman’s beating Brock at Mania, and most people have taken a position of “let’s just get this over with” toward what will be his fourth consecutive stint main eventing the biggest show of the year, but Roman doesn’t come out of this looking stronger than Braun — and not just because Strow beat his ass after the bell to send the crowd home happy. This just feels like a lazy way to give fans something they want (Strowman looking badass) so it’s easier to accept something they don’t (Roman going to Mania). It’s the spoonful of sugar mentality and it’s the exact same thinking that led to Randy Orton winning last year’s Royal Rumble. I guess when it comes down to it, WWE is going to do what it wants to do, but that doesn’t mean that they are blind to the realities of what the fans want — even if it often feels like that. As such, I wouldn’t be surprised if everyone’s second favorite bearded wrestling folk-hero found his way into a triple threat match for the Universal title at Mania.
As for the rest of the match, let’s hit the speed round:
- It has to be said that, though he’s not a great in-ring performer, Elias is simply magic. His pre-match song about how shitty Las Vegas is was phenomenal. The man just knows how to play the crowd. See the moment when he threatens to stop singing if the crowd doesn’t quiet down then reneges by saying “See, the thing is, my voice is already warmed up…”
- This was also a decent performance for Miz, even if he was out first. There was a moment where dude got to hit the It Kicks on Finn, Seth, Cena and Roman all in a row. Of course, he got chucked off the top of a pod by Strowman in one of the biggest spills I can recall seeing him take over the years, but it was a decent outing for the A-lister. He probably deserved better, but he never does well in these matches and (short of Elias) had the least to lose by being eliminated early.
- I also wanted to praise a few little character moments for Mike Mizanin, such as when he walked from corner to corner antagonizing every competitor in a pod only to be scared off as soon as Braun banged on the lexan. I also thought it funny that he tried to team up with both Finn and Seth against the other man only to be shot down and beat by both.
- Old Man Cena put in a decent showing, even hitting an AA on Braun (which was crazy impressive, honestly). I just have a hard time buying into this story about him not having an avenue to WrestleMania. Like, dude, you are John Cena. Even Kurt Angle was like “pfft, no. Cena’s going to be at WrestleMania.” So why is Big Match John suddenly dealing with a crisis of confidence? What’s particularly annoying is that I know as soon as he has an opponent for Mania he’ll be back to trash talking “the champ is here” Cena (AKA my least favorite Cena…well second least now that mopey, “end of my rope” Cena is a thing). I mean it’s a defining character trait that Cena never changes, so I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, but that doesn’t mean I have to pretend to like it.
- Finn also had an okay showing. First off, I’m not sure I’m all the way on board with Egyptian Blue Balor, but it was neat to see some new gear on him. Dude managed to stand against up to all of the men in this match, even looking competitive with Braun. The one issue I have is that he’s working with a relatively limited moveset. I feel like he threw three dozen sling blades and about 40 basement dropkicks while he was out there. Still, he looked good and I’d love to see him take the IC belt off of Miz, possibly at Mania with the Club/Miztourage at ringside.
- Rollins did well, but I feel like there’s a lot of pressure on him to be unbelievable in every match nowadays after his marathon work on Monday’s gauntlet match. As such, Seth works his ass off out there and is hitting all kinds of crazy comebacks and finishers. The Kingslayer hit a five-star Frog Splash on Braun from atop the cage, a couple of superkicks and goes for the curb stomp (evidently renamed as just “the stomp” now) only for Braun to pop up and turn it into a powerslam. It’s no stomp-into-an-RKO, but it works. If he doesn’t find his way into the title match, I fully expect Braun to face off with Seth at the show of shows.
And that’s the Chamber. All in all this was a fine but predictable event, and while that’s not great, I recognize that sometimes things have to go that way. WrestleMania is right around the corner and there are a lot of loose ends to tie up before we hit the big stage. That being said, a curveball would have been welcome. It’s all I’m saying.