In this day and age you can’t just “predict” a PPV anymore, you have to to account for the capricious whims of WWE’s septuagenarian, sleep-deprived egomaniac owner. You can’t just “preview” a PPV…you have to preview how things should go, in a reasonable and sane world, and then add “so of course…” and explain what Vince McMahon will probably do instead.
Consider this your SO OF COURSE preview of WWE ELIMINATION-DONT WORRY WE KNOW JOHN CENA VS. RANDY ORTON PART ONE THOUSAND AT WRESTLEMANIA IS A TERRIBLE IDEA SO OF COURSE THAT’S TOTES THE PLAN-CHAMBER!
Is it not weird to anyone else that John Cena…doesn’t age?
Anyway, last month WWE hosted its annual Royal Rumble event live from the Alamo Dome. The 65,000 seat venue brought in the largest gate (meaning, the money the company makes from ticket sales) for a non-WrestleMania show in history. There were over 50,000 fans on hand to watch the four hour show, the biggest non-Mania crowd since SummerSlam 1992, not to mention millions more watching at home.
So how’d it go?!
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That was basically this column in a nutshell. Roman Reigns, loathed WWE “babyface,” mediocre in-ring talent, sub-mediocre promo talent, dressed in the same boring riot gear he had when he was with the much more beloved Shield faction, was defeated in his match to win the Universal Title. Fans were happy, sure, but more they were happy that his match meant that would be the last time we’d have to see Roman that evening. “At least he’s not in the Rumble” was the rallying cry for fans all evening long. As the timer ticked down to zero on the final Royal Rumble entrant fans were abuzz as to who it might be. Samoa Joe? Finn Balor? Kenny Omega? Shinsuke Nakamura? Doink? There could not have been a better “SO OF COURSE” moment than Roman Reigns somehow getting the number 30 spot and waltzing down the ramp to a chorus of disgruntled, dejected and joyless boos.
How did he get the #30 pick? When did he get the #30 pick? He couldn’t have gotten it until after he lost the title match, since there would be no need for him to enter a match to win the #1 contendership when he was already #1 contender going into the match. Did he expect to lose and then squirm into the match as insurance? Why did Mick Foley and Stephanie McMahon allow that? Who was the #30 pick going to be had Roman won the title? Kevin Owens?
None of it makes any sense, nevermind how much it was hated by everyone. Thankfully WWE’s next PPV is here to take our minds off it, and since it’s a SmackDown-exclusive show we can rejoice that Roman Reigns won’t ruin it like he almost ruined the Royal Rumble.
SO OF C–
Wait no, not yet.
On to the show!
TAG TEAM TURMOIL MATCH
There will only be one Elimination Chamber match, but there is a second six-member contest on the card. In this case it’s six teams, basically the entire Smackdown tag division, competing for the blue and silver belts. Even the most loyal fans of the superior blue brand would admit that Smackdown’s tag division has been a disappointment. While the World title storylines have been great, the IC title has stayed relevant and around the waist of good workers, and the women’s division is as loaded as ever, the tag division has yet to live up to its potential.
There was a good storyline months ago about Heath Slater and Rhyno being an unlikely duo and an even more unlikely championship team, but that was months ago. Since then the belt has moved to American Alpha. They were hot as fire in NXT but their heat hasn’t translated very well to Smackdown. There are two reasons why: In the first place, there isn’t a “Revivial” team on Smackdown like AA had on NXT. The Revival were workhorses who put on some match of the year-caliber contests with AA, elevating all four men to superstardom. Smackdown’s teams are mostly gimmicks (Vaudvillains, Breezango, Slater/Rhyno) or bland and mediocre in the ring (Usos, Ascension). Hopefully The Revival get called up soon and bring the heat back. The other reason why Smackdown’s tag division has struggled is because the writers used it as a piece of the larger storyline they’re telling with Randy Orton and the Wyatt family. Whenever a midcard division gets roped into a main-event storyline, the midcard title suffers for it. Now that the Wyatt Family has lost the tag titles hopefully things will turn around.
In the meantime this six-team match will hopefully be fast-paced and exciting enough to mask the underlying problems that are going on with the division. The rules for the match are a little sketchy, but likely it will play out similarly to a guantlet match. Two teams will begin and after a pinfall the loser leaves and a new team enters. The possibility is for one team to run the gauntlet and essentially win five matches in a row, but it’s more likely that there will be multiple pinfalls and different combinations happening. American Alpha are the champs so they will start, and likely drop the belts, but hopefully they will regain the title either at WrestleMania or before the big show and then compete against The Revival in Orlando. Those two teams are the future of the division.
SO OF COURSE…
BECKY LYNCH vs MICKIE JAMES
There are three women’s matches on the card but I’m assuming the Nikki Bella vs Natalya match will be on the preshow (along with Dolph Ziggler’s handicap match against Apollo Crews and Kalisto). That leaves the Women’s title match and this one, featuring the women’s division ace in the hole and returning veteran. This is a feud revolving around a fake luchador costume. That’s all you need to know, but if you insist on more detail…
Becky was in a feud with Women’s title champion Alexa Bliss. In late December, Becky wrestled Alexa dressed up as “La Luchadora” (a red and blue mockery of Los Conquistadores). Becky won the match and then unmasked herself (which is a real no-no in Lucha culture). The next week, and for weeks thereafter another wrestler dressed as La Luchadora interfered in Lynch’s matches, and assisted Bliss in attacking her. Eventually it was revealed that Mickie James (who recently returned to WWE as an NXT competitor) was the lady behind the mask. So there we are. Lynch dressed up, won, then got comeuppance by a heel dressed in the same garb. You can quibble if you want about how Lynch and James sort of switched the heel/face roles to get to their match, but whatever. Both of these ladies can go in the ring, so as long they are given time to work and no one is wearing blue and red spandex this should be a great one.
SO OF COURSE…
RANDY ORTON vs LUKE HARPER
So Randy Orton won the Royal Rumble. It was a surprising finish, as the most likely winner was pegged to be Undertaker. Instead WWE decided to treat the Wyatt family story as a major one, which should not have been a surprise in hindsight. Randy Orton and Bray Wyatt main-evened the No Mercy PPV despite the match not being for the title. In fact the title match opened the show in a highly unusual move. Most people assumed the company switched things up because the first presidential debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton was happening the same night, but looking back maybe they were subtly telling us this storyline was going to be important. The next month, both Randy Orton and Bray Wyatt (now partners) were the final two survivors in the huge Raw vs Smackdown Survivor Series match. The next month they won the tag titles. And that’s when it all started unraveling. Two days after Christmas they lost their tag titles when Orton “accidentally” clobbered Luke Harper. The rift between Harper and Wyatt/Orton escalated until Harper finally turned babyface and stood opposed to the Family.
Now Orton faces Harper in the traditional “warm-up match while the Rumble winner waits for his championship feud to start.” There’s no real threat for Harper to win; this will be more about what story they tell and how they tell it. Most seem to think that Orton vs Bray Wyatt will be the WWE Title Match at WrestleMania this year and if so, it’s almost a given that Harper will be involved one way or another. How WWE navigates that story will be interesting; pro wrestling (especially WWE) is not usually a vehicle for subtle storytelling but if they pull this off it could be one of the great main event stories they’ve ever told. In order to do it right, Harper has to go from being a heel that was ostracized from his evil cult by an outsider-turned-insider, to a babyface rebelling against that cult, and then turn back to a heel once he realizes that he was just a pawn in the game to take down his cult’s leader.
Remember the subplot of Return of the King (the movie, not the book)? How Gollum turned Frodo against Sam and then Frodo kicked Sam away just before entering Shelob’s cave? Sam then turned back and saved the day just in time. That’s basically the story here, except the alignments are all out of whack. Gollum is Randy Orton, playing the part of bad guy in order to take down the Wyatts from the inside. Frodo is Bray Wyatt, the leader. Sam is Luke Harper, the outcasted member who used to be the trusted companion. Harper has to turn back to Bray once Randy’s true motivations are revealed and WWE has to tell that part of the story with enough grace and subtlety that it doesn’t come off as haphazard face/heel turns. It’s going to be tricky but if anyone can do it Smackdown can do it. Can you imagine Raw trying to tell that story?
Setting aside the big picture, this match is just a page in the book. However it ends, there are more pages to read. As long as Randy Orton comes out looking strong and Luke Harper comes out of it looking important, it’ll be a win.
SO OF COURSE…
ALEXA BLISS vs NAOMI
The other women’s match features Alexa Bliss defending her title against Naomi. Bliss has been champion now for about two and a half months, but that’s longer than I expected her to hold it. As of now it looks like she might go into WrestleMania with the title, which would be a real vote of confidence and a well-earned reward considering the great work she’s been doing on Smackdown. It’s easy to overlook her due to the always-great Becky Lynch and the returning Mickie James (not to mention the other horsewomen on Raw) but Bliss debuted on the main roster around the same time Bayley did yet has translated her NXT character over to Smackdown much more skillfully than Bayley has on Raw. Granted…it’s Raw, but still: Bayley’s a seasoned vet compared to Bliss, so credit where it’s due: Bliss is doing great.
Naomi should be no threat to win the title. She’s “diet Sasha Banks” and while naturally athletic is rather clunky in matches, but I’m a shameless mark for the NXT women and Naomi is a holdover from the WWE Divas days so I’m probably just prejudiced against her. I still don’t think she wins the title here, or any time soon, and if WWE was smart they’d hold off on the Bliss/Lynch title rematch until Mania and give Becky her title back on a grand stage (even if it comes on the preshow, which it likely will).
SO OF COURSE…
ELIMINATION CHAMBER MATCH
The main-event sees the return of the Elimination Chamber match after a two-year hiatus. There’s a solid lineup of superstars competing, only one of whom would be out of place wearing the Big Logo belt around his waist. Let’s rundown each competitor and their chances of winning, in order from least to greatest (and please note that these percentages do not add up to 100):
BARON CORBIN – 1% chance
He’s over 6’5 so there’s always a chance, and to be fair he’s doing good work and getting better every week, but this isn’t his time and a win here would go beyond Vince’s usually wild ideas. He’ll get a main-event run before too long, but not yet.
THE MIZ – 10% chance
He’s the darkhorse MVP of the post-brandsplit Smackdown, and would be a lock for the honor were it not for AJ Styles. Miz has been doing not only the best work of his career (which isn’t saying much), but has been consistently outclassing most of the roster (Smackdown or Raw). While I hope he gets another run with the title, this isn’t the moment for that run to begin. He’s been great, but not “go into WrestleMania with the title…again” great.
DEAN AMBROSE – 10% chance
He’s the current Intercontinental Champion so a lot of storyline shenanigans would have to follow if he were to walk out of the PPV with both of Smackdown’s male titles. Carrying the IC belt is more important right now than getting another WWE Championship run so soon after his last one. Smackdown is being booked a lot like the old WWF, where the secondary belt was held by legit top shelf talent and not just carried around by a midcarder or used as a prop. There’s no reason to shake that up with a Dean win.
AJ STYLES – 25% chance
He’s the former champ, and were it not for the fact that a Smackdown guy won the Royal Rumble, he would be a much more likely pick to win the belt back and go into WrestleMania as a two-time champ. As it is he’s a heel and—for right now—so is Randy Orton. There’s no logical way to make it work.
JOHN CENA – 40%
Once upon a time John Cena was the guy you always picked to win. Even when you were pretty sure he would lose, you still hedged your bets and went with Cena. He was the house and you don’t bet against the house. He enters the match as WWE Champion, a sixteen timer (which, according to WWE’s record-keeping ties him with Ric Flair for most all-time) but leaving as champ would mean setting up WrestleMania to feature Cena vs Orton for (literally) the 85th time on PPV. If the match ended up one-on-one it would be the 21st match between the two on PPV. Nospankyou. So no, unless Vince is just trolling everyone…and let’s not discount that entirely…Cena won’t be entering WrestleMania as WWE Champion.
BRAY WYATT will win the match. He will win because that’s the only logical conclusion to arrive at considering all the factors involved. Orton and Wyatt are in the middle of a storyline, Wyatt has been pegged for a World Title run according to insiders, Orton will presumably turn babyface and get his rematch against Wyatt who beat him last year. All the stars are aligned here. Did this feud need the Royal Rumble and the WWE title to be effective? No, but here we are: Bray wins his first WWE Title here and Orton captures it at WrestleMania.
SO OF COURSE…
Oh well, there’s always NXT.
Here’s to Sunday!