Bird Cage Edition!
Emanating from Phoenix, AZ
Announcers: Tom Philips, Mauro Ranallo, David Otunga, John “Bradshaw” Layfield
BECKY LYNCH vs. MICKIE JAMES
DOLPH ZIGGLER vs. APOLLO CREWS & KALLISTO
SMACKDOWN TAG TEAM CHAMPIONSHIP TURMOIL MATCH- AMERICAN ALPHA (c) vs. HEATH SLATER & RHYNO vs. THE USOS vs. BREEZANGO vs. THE VAUDEVILLAINS vs. THE ASCENSION
NATALYA vs. NIKKI BELLA
RANDY ORTON vs. LUKE HARPER
SMACKDOWN WOMEN’S CHAMPIONSHIP- ALEXA BLISS (c) vs. NAOMI
WWE CHAMPIONSHIP ELIMINATION CHAMBER MATCH- JOHN CENA (c) v.s AJ STYLES vs. BRAY WYATT vs. DEAN AMBROSE vs. THE MIZ vs. BARON CORBIN
WARNING- SPOILERS AHEAD
So I think at this point, it’s pretty difficult to dispute that Smackdown is the superior brand right now. With everything we’ve seen from Teams Red and Blue since the Brand Split, Smackdown has been simply head and shoulders above Raw. Now of course, there is a whole host of reasons for that, but if you want the short version: Smackdown feels like its moving forward, whereas Raw just runs in place. Anyway, I’m not gonna get to deep into the stark contrasts between the two shows in this review, but yeah: Smackdown is tops. And shows like Elimination Chamber are a big reason why.
Elimination Chamber graced us with the gift of something that Raw often struggles to do: a fresh-feeling and cohesive show. The show was packed with matches that, from top-to-bottom, had some level of decent build going into the show and feud behind them that was, at least in some fashion, compelling. You had battles between friends-turned bitter rivals, revenge sought for wrong-doings of all reasons, and champions tasked with facing down a fleet of exciting and fresh contenders. With a few notable exceptions (which I’ll get into), pretty much everything on this show worked for me on some level or another.
Let’s start with the main event. The Elimination Chamber match was, in a word, fantastic. It was exactly everything you could want out of a Chamber match: chaotic, brutal, and loaded with creative and exciting spots that took full advantage of the Chamber and its surroundings. The match pretty much went from strength to strength, and by the end of the night, it had earned itself the right to be “Match of the Night”. Of course, some folks might complain about how predictable the ending was given what had been rumbling prior to the show, but you know what? That ain’t always a bad thing, especially when the execution is so god-damned great. I mean, think about it: in just 10 minutes of excellent wrestling, a lot of was done to undo about 4 years worth of completely mishandled booking of Bray Wyatt. Not only did Bray win the championship though; he did it by beating both John Cena and AJ Styles clean. I don’t care how predictable it was, I loved it, the crowd loved it, and I imagine Bray loved it too. For the first time in a long time, Bray felt like a star, and that feeling tops any kind of predictability. And with Orton being the No 1 Contender, it was really the only choice WWE had for a Wrestlemania feud anyway, let alone one that presents so many intriguing possibilities.
That’s not to say that the rest of the card wasn’t up to snuff. Elimination Chamber proved to be a great showcase for Smackdown’s women (take notes, Raw), with the women having three different matches on the card, and all of them were strong. Nikki Bella and Natalya’s clash was an especially engaging contest, a perfect combination of story-telling and solid action made for a great culmination to what has turned out to be a strong and compelling feud, in spite of its rocky start. While the count-out finish was a cop-out to be sure, it wasn’t so bad as to undo the goodness that had preceded it. Both the other women’s matches, in spite of their overall quality, didn’t quite compare. Becky and Mickie’s clash lacked spark and the crowd was noticeably quiet throughout, only truly coming alive once Becky won. The Women’s Title match was good as well, but I can’t help but feel Naomi’s win is a bit of a booking misstep: if its such a big deal that she’s carrying her first ever Women’s Championship into her home town for Wrestlemania, wouldn’t it have been much more effective to hold off for Naomi’s big win at Wrestlemania? That’s a story that basically writes itself, not to mention to would have given us one of those much bally-hooed Wrestlemania moments.
Randy Orton and Luke Harper also ended up turning out a great match in spite of a rocky start that was oddly low intensity given the personal stakes of the feud. That said, the match did suffer a little bit for the fact that Luke’s character feels a little vague right now, not fitting comfortably into his new baby face role quite yet. But ignoring that, Harper delivered a great performance against Orton that was a star-making showcase. Had Harper picked up the win too, I’ve no doubt it would have been an instant star-maker right there and then, but if Harper can carry the momentum from this performance forward, I’ve no doubt that the future will be bright for him.
Really, the only true low points of the night were the Tag Team Turmoil Match and Ziggler’s handicap match with Apollo Crews and Kallisto. As to the former: its not so much that the match itself was bad, just that it basically exposed Smackdown’s biggest problem, which is its lack of credible tag teams. Besides American Alpha themselves, every other tag team in that match had been jobbed out so many times that it was difficult to maintain any kind of tension in the proceedings, especially when you’re teasing American Alpha losing the titles to The Ascension, who barely have 3 televised wins between them. As to the latter: well, this one was just a train-wreck of booking plain and simple. I don’t care how much of an uber heel Ziggler’s supposed to be now, you can’t build heat for someone by stacking the odds against them, its far too sympathetic. As for Apollo and Kallisto, they need to figure out something fast with these guys because they really aren’t clicking with the fans. You know you’re in trouble when dastardly heel Ziggler crushes noble, valiant baby face Apollo Crew’s ankle in a chair, and the fans react by chanting “Thank you, Ziggler.” Oof.
But still, if you set aside those frustrations, Elimination Chamber really was a great show. Even if the predictability of the results bothered you, the fact that they felt so damn good in spite of the predictability is just testament to the ongoing strength of Smackdown’s booking. Elimination Chamber is definitely a show worth checking out on the road to Wrestlemania. Now let’s all join together in the time-honoured tradition of pointing at the Wrestlemania sign.
Are you doing it? You better be doing it, I’m trusting you here…