Two weeks after Payback and Takeover, and with barely any time to properly build up the show, this Elimination Chamber event had low expectations going in. Payback was sub par, making for some subdued expectations for this event. Not to mention the fact that NXT Takeover was great, causing fans to preemptively hate this show. Then there’s the fact that it happened two weeks before what is traditionally the best PPV outside of the Big Three (Royal Rumble, WrestleMania and SummerSlam). Elimination Chamber seemed doomed to disappear…
And yet, WWE couldn’t afford to have that happen. The entire reason for this event—itself just a rejiggered house show, filmed for the WWEN—was to give viewers one last incentive to order the Network. Little did we know that the very next day WWE would, once more, offer a “free month,” making me wonder if these promotions are actually working or if they are failing so hard that WWE is simply doubling down on them, and hoping that the quantity, not the quality, of promotions will win the day. Whatever they’re thinking as they strategize the growth of the network, WWE needed more than just another “PPV” event; they needed something to get people talking, something to make those who skipped out on the event regret their decision.
Featuring the return of the elimination chamber match was a good call, as it is one of the few gimmick matches they haven’t conditioned the fans to roll their eyes at. Did the show accomplish its purpose, and did it do it well?
I would say…not really.
The event wasn’t a slam dunk but it certainly wasn’t a disaster. Nothing really flopped but other than one glorious exception, nothing really soared either. The real takeaway, beyond the finish the Owens vs Cena instant-classic, is that for the most part, WWE did what they rarely do: They put the heels over, over and over again.
Let’s take a look a the card:
Neville defeated Bo Dallas in one of the two matches where a babyface won, but this was the only match where the guy the fans wanted to win, actually did. It was also the most throw-away match on the card. The buildup was inconsequential, the placement on the show was as a cooldown for the fans, the match and everything surrounding it was forgotten as soon as it was finished. The match meant nothing, but it wasn’t bad. It existed solely to show off Neville’s Red Arrow, and he continues to nail it perfectly every single time. The idea of him performing the move from, say, the top of a ladder has me light-headed just thinking about it.
As for his opponent, at this point, Bo is what Bo is. He’s lost all his nuance and depth to his character, and his character is all he had because his ring work has always been pedestrian. He’s never been “bad” as a wrestler; he doesn’t hurt people, miss spots, or simply look lost out there. He’s just…bo-ring. He needs his character and promo skills to carry him, but he’s not getting the chances now that he had on NXT. If he was, this match might have meant more. As it is, it just sort of happened.
Ryback won the Elimination Chamber match for the Intercontinental Championship. This was billed as the more important of the two chamber bouts, but fans were definitely more energized for the first one. There’s two reasons for that, and one of them is the fact that the novelty of the tag match, and more entertaining competitors in that match made it the ones fans were more interested in. WWE probably predicted that too, which is why they led off the show with it, and moved this one to later on in the evening. This is the only other match of the night where the babyface won, and while Ryback certainly has a few sayings fans enjoy chanting along with, as well as a strangely engaging live-promo style (his backstage promos are bad, oddly enough), he was hardly the consensus pick to win the match, going in. As a matter of fact, if you were to poll the audience, Ryback would probably have come in second-to-last, ahead of R-Truth, and behind the last-minute replacement, Mark Henry (who continues to feel underutilized despite the many chances he’s been given). The fans were clearly behind Ziggler, would have enjoyed booing a Sheamus win, and would have been fine with a Barrett win.
A Ryback win means they at least have a plan for the belt (which probably wouldn’t have been the case with any other winner, save the now-injured Rusev), so I can’t complain too badly. It’s just that their plan revolves around a guy who often injures opponents, works clunkily and—beyond his catchphrase—really doesn’t connect with the audience. As for the match itself, it lacked a lot of excitement, had a few botched spots and never really kept the crowd’s attention. Mark Henry’s pod broke before he was selected to enter…was that a botch or a planned spot? Is it good or bad that I can’t tell? So much of it was just wrestling in slow motion. And in both chamber matches everyone was breaking up pins all over the place. Once again I ask “do these guys not watch wrestling?” Like don’t they DVR it and catch it on their days off? Could they not watch it on the backstage monitors or something? Don’t they know an elimination match means seeing everyone but you get pinned, and that it’s okay if you’re not the one pinning, so long as you’re not the one getting pinned?
(edit: so it turns out the “plan” is a feud with Big Show. lolokay)
Nikki Bella retained her Divas title against Paige and Naomi, as she continues her journey toward either dropping it to Charlotte, or breaking AJ Lee’s record and then dropping it to Charlotte. There’s not much left to say about the state of the Divas division on the main roster; I actually watched Becky Lynch vs Sasha Banks after the show was off, just as a palate cleanser, more for the whole show than this match in particular, because this match wasn’t bad. I must add the typical qualifier: “For a WWE Divas match.” It was sloppy and some of the big spots looked dangerous. It’s weird because when I see the ladies in NXT setting up a big multi-person top rope move, I sit up and watch with excitement. When the WWE ladies do it, my face is all
and I just hope no one gets too hurt. Poor Paige looked like she was working double time to keep everything flowing smoothly, and she had a serviceable Naomi and The Better Bella to play off of, but still she had her work cut out for her. She was the MVP of the match and really deserves credit for it being “not bad.” Nothing changes with the win though. The heel, Nikki (wait…is she a heel…are there even alignments on the main roster for the divas?) retained and at this point she’s just a glorified transitional champion. When AJ held the title for so long I don’t recall wondering every week when she was going to lose. I was just along for the ride. But then again, back then, we didn’t have such a glaring alternative every Wednesday night showing how much better things could be. Two years ago this match would have made people say “*gasp* wow.” In light of NXT, it makes people say “*sigh* when?”
New day retained the Tag Titles in the Elimination Chamber, but how it went down was certainly…unusual. Look, I get that wrestling fans are jerks who demand change then complain when it happens, and demand surprises and then complain when things don’t go like we predict. We’re impossible to please, and everyone reading is responsible for at least one of Vince’s grey hairs. Which…is kind of cool.
I feel like this was one of those times when Vince was trying to outsmart people who were just so sure they knew how it was going to go. Fans knew there were three top teams and three bottom teams in this match. Ascension, Matadores and Prime Time Players were there to fill up spaces and take their pins. Cesaro was there to look like a superstar who happens to be in the wrong (i.e. not world title) division. New Day was there to heel it up and rake in the boos. The Lucha Dragons were there to do crazy acrobatic stuff. Instead nope. Cesaro (the only real star in the match) is dispatched far too early, New Day spent most of the match in the pod and I don’t know what the Lucha Dragons were doing. At one point Kalisto climbed to the very apex of the pod, then fell awkwardly, accomplishing nothing. It was like that Spider-man Broadway show. Sin Cara hit powerbombs and clotheslines and barely got any air on his dropkicks, continuing his run as the worst luchador in history. In the end Prime Time players got the rub, but not enough of one to really engage the crowd and bring them back after the Cesaro/Kidd elimination. The closest they came to coming to life was when El Torito dropped from the sky like Ethan Hunt, only to be lawndarted out of the ring. The finish was fun too, as all three of New Day teamed up to secure the pinfall victory. I suppose this could be a transition to the Prime Time Players being the next challengers to the titles, while Kidd and Cesaro begin to go their separate ways. That would be great. But this match was just “good.”
Seth Rollins ended the night as the WWE Champion though it came by way of a Dusty Finish. That term is thrown around a little too casually to refer to any kind of a finish where the champ cheats to win. A real Dusty Finish, however, is what you saw on Sunday night. The champ “lost” but then, after the bell and after the celebration, then there is some kind of “oops no, cause see…” and the whole thing is reversed. For it to be a Dusty Finish there has to be a reversal and it has to happen on the night in question (so Bryan getting stripped of the title on the night after Night of Champions 2013 doesn’t count). Fans were quick to complain about the finish but it was actually a rare occurrence for a major match. Where we go from here is…a rematch (go figure). When your next big show is only two Raw’s away, you can expect a fair number of rematches.
But that’s okay. These two are like Owens and Zayn in that they have a remarkable chemistry and a long history. FCW, NXT, WWE; wherever they go, they are destined to fight. Singles matches, handicap matches, hell in a cell matches, throwaway tag matches, PPV main events; in so many different environments these two have never failed to disappoint. After all their many battles they finally went one on one for the richest prize. And it was pretty pretty pretty prettygood. It was hindered in that Ambrose’s workrate has kind of regressed as he works a typical WWE-babyface style, and Rollins as a heel is intentionally less flashy than he can be. I can’t imagine it, but I think this match would have been great in the WWE if the face/heel roles had been reversed: Ambrose as the maniacal villain and Rollins as the scrappy challenger. But what we got was good, at times very good. And then came the ending.
Look there used to be a time when screwjob endings were the norm; now they are the exception. Sure there’s usually some kind of interference, but rarely is there not a 1-2-3 and a legit finish. A real, old school Dusty Finish is a rare bird indeed, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the monkeys at their typewriters that Vince employs think they came up with it all by themselves. The only danger in such finishes is if the guy getting strung along never actually wins for real. I don’t know if Ambrose is in the WWE’s long-term future as champion, so I may look back on this finish worse than I did on the night it happened. As it was, it was a pretty good match, with a pretty rare finish.
Kevin Owens beat John Cena clean in the middle of the ring, 1-2-3. He won no title in the process. It was not in the main event. It was a match with two weeks of buildup. It was contested between the US Champion and the face of the company’s “development” league.
It was the most remarkable win you’ll see all year.
I can count on one hand the number of clean losses Cena has taken since becoming “the man” a decade ago. None of them involved CM Punk, who almost always beat John Cena but always always did so via some kind of interference or distraction. I know one of those clean losses involves Daniel Bryan…
but if you’ll remember Cena was nursing a legit injury to his arm, and although that did not play into the finish of the match, it was still something for his devoted followers to cling to. There was that one loss to Tensai, but I’m pretty sure there was a distraction. He lost to Carlito in the Cool Carabbean man’s debut but that was back in the Basic Thuganomics days. Batista beat him in a SummerSlam match pretty clean. Of course the Rock took him out at Mania 28…Look, I’m googling furiously but there’s not many to find.
With this Owens victory, there was no distraction, no interference, no hidden weapons, no momentary brain farts by Cena. There was nothing you could point to and say “that’s why Cena lost; take that away and he wins.” Unless you’re talking about Kevin Owens. If you take Kevin Owens out of the match then yeah, Cena wins. Look at the aforementioned name of guys who beat him really and truly clean in the middle of the ring: Batista was the 1A to Cena’s 1. Rock is THE ROCK. And then…Kevin Owens?
Every Wednesday night they tell me “The future (of wrestling) is now.” Sunday night I finally believed it.
You want to talk about the match? It was hands-down the best match on the show. Put it on any of the previous WWE PPVs since WrestleMania and it’s the best match on the show. It had great chemistry between the competitors, great wrestling, great storytelling, a hot crowd, perfect near falls and a memorable finish that made me literally make a “squee” sound.
Ever since I began writing about this stuff, I’ve been taking notes before I watch, as I watch, and after I watch. Here is the extent of the notes I took at the conclusion of the show:
The Owens/Cena match drained the crowd. In fact, judging by the crowd reactions throughout the evening, this was the only match people wanted to see. What other rating is there to give it? There’s not a thing I would have changed about it.
This was a night when three of the six matches were won by villains, another was won by a Diva who isn’t allowed to maintain a heel or face persona for longer than an episode of Downton Abbey (but who is traditionally a villain), and another was won by a babyface no one cared about seeing win. It was a weird show. I don’t know if WWE went into it with the idea to put over the heels so strongly all night, or if it just shaked out that way, but it made for an interesting dynamic. And since this was a spur of the moment show, it really added to the uniqueness of the evening.
Unfortunately the actual quality was not up to par. For the past few months WWE PPV’s have been getting by on the in-ring product, as the stories have been poorly told. Other than the brilliant Cena/Owens match, this show ends WWE’s streak of great wrestling shows. But I guess, considering the theme of the night, it’s fitting that I was angry.
Since Vince is the biggest heel of them all these days.