The feedback from the Royal Rumble article was pretty positive so I’ve decided to write reviews for all of the WWE PPVs going forward.
Now again, I’m not Dave Meltzer. I’m not going to give star ratings on matches or anything. These are just going to be about what I enjoyed and what I didn’t.
I also need to address one of the biggest complaints people were giving me about the Rumble, itself. Basically they wanted to knock down what was a great show because of a lack or surprise entry. They wanted Samoa Joe, they wanted Kurt Angle, they wanted Kenny Omega, they wanted Hulk Hogan, etc.
Listen, that’s an incredibly silly reason not to like the product. It doesn’t have to live up to your fantasy booking expectations. Should I have shit talked the last 15 years of WWE programming because they never took my idea of bringing in PN News to feud with John Cena over who is the best wrestling rapper? Of course not. It would have been awesome though. You know it too.
To apply that logic to other programming, it’d be like someone bitching at Vince Gilligan for not having Badger and Skinny Pete as the stars of Breaking Bad or not having Walter and Jesse show up on Better Call Saul. He’s telling the stories he wants and you’re either along for the ride or you’re not.
Wrestling is the only form of creative entertainment I can think of where the fans feel so entitled to influence the creative direction. I have no problem with people shitting over something when it’s bad (Batista’s Rumble win) or hoping for a bigger push for a star they like, but getting pissy because you didn’t get the surprise Rumble entrant you wanted, seems really petty and that maybe you need to re-evaluate why you’re watching the product.
Now that that’s out of the way, let’s focus on Elimination Chamber.
In many ways, I’ve been looking forward to this one even more than I was to the Rumble.
The booking on Smackdown has been exceptional. The booking on Raw hasn’t been so great. The weakest moments at the Rumble were the result of some of the Raw booking decisions (i.e. Charlotte beating Bayley clean, Nia Jax destroying Sasha Banks). Well that won’t be a problem here because it’s a Smackdown only show and every match, for the most part, has been the result of an incredibly booked angle.
Raw seemingly can’t handle anything beyond Charlotte’s title feud, where Smackdown has three women’s matches. All with unique storylines, fully developed characters and a legitimate reason to be happening. There is emotional investment into all of them and that really speaks to the high level of focus that Smackdown places on its women’s roster. It’s really being given the chance to carry the mid-card at the blue brand’s last event before WrestleMania.
The Elimination Chamber, itself, is probably the one I’ve been looking forward to the most in quite some time. It’s the first one I can think of where there are legitimate reasons why any of the six men competing could win the title and all of them have been booked so well that if they walked out with the strap, I don’t think anyone could complain about it.
I know there were strong rumours from the dirt sheets about how was winning the main event at this show, but full disclosure – I don’t read them. When I started this blog, I swore off reading that stuff because I wanted to go into the shows without any preconceived notions or biases and I wanted to be genuinely surprised by them.
You’d amazed how much joy returns to the product for you when you’re looking at it the same way you did when you were young – with nothing but intuition and a love of the product to tell you were things are going next. I don’t think I could ever go back given how much fun I’ve had watching wrestling in 2017.
I mean I still check some sites for injury updates, wellness policy violations and the reasons for certain booking decisions after the fact. But I stay the hell away from future storyline spoilers and rumoured card articles. I don’t need or want to know the card for WrestleMania at this point. I’d rather watch it develop organically.
So let’s take a look at the show Smackdown put on for us last night.
Pre-show match: Mojo Rawley vs. Curt Hawkins
Zack Ryder tag team partners explode!
I like Mojo Rawley. I know it’s not a popular opinion but I think he’s fun, inoffensive mid-card act and I really think he’s shown a commitment to improving in the ring and has a natural, if somewhat goofy charisma that gets crowds behind him. I’d have zero issue with him getting a push or even the opportunity to show more character work.
He was a lot less goofy in this one. Toning down a lot of the “hype” to take down Curt Hawkins in a solid pre-show match-up where Mojo looked, for one of the first times ever, as less of a can of Red Bull in human form and more like someone ready to get an actual program in the mid-card.
I hope WWE pulls the trigger on it. Even if it’s just feeding him to the new out of control Dolph Ziggler, because Rawley can benefit a lot from working with him and continue to grow as a performer by working with different opponents, getting some time to talk, etc.
For Hawkins part, I wish he’d been given more of an opportunity in this one to show off his offense. He seems to have stalled out a bit career wise after having a pretty good run when WWE brought him back last summer. In any case, he was perfect in his role here as being the smarmy heel who the face takes down on his way to bigger and better things.
Match #1: Becky Lynch vs. Mickie James
Before I get into this one, I have to ask who it is that keeps giving Becky Lynch extended interview segments, guest commentary spots or puts her in any position where she has to talk for any significant length of time. Lynch was given yet another long interview segment in the pre-show during a hype spot for the social media lounge and it was painful.
I like Becky Lynch. I like her in ring work a lot. But her interviews are painful. I don’t know if she’s being given direction to come up with the most painfully unfunny stuff possible. Seriously the whole rant about ripping off Mickie James’ arms and slapping her back to the past with them and then using them as a clapperboard was brutal as bad as her cheesy “Becky Balboa” rants. Someone really needs to sit with her and tell her tone it down a bit. Maybe it’s some kind of character trait that goes with the nonsensical steam punk gear and all but Lynch does so much better when she is just allowed to speak like a normal human being. Just let her do that.
But again her in-ring work is killer.
It was no different in this one. I absolutely loved this match. There was some textbook psychology on display here with Mickie James working Lynch’s arm and Becky doing the selling the selling. The cagey veteran using the young upstart’s tactics against them. I think if Bret Hart was watching this one that he would have smiled because the match really told that story all the way through.
James dominated. Lynch would get some hope spots and then she’d go right back to that arm. It was great. However decided to bring back Mickie James deserves a big raise and a Kevin Dunn style untouchable spot in the company because she adds so much to the division and with her veteran savvy can tell new and unique stories in the ring with her younger opponents.
I was at NXT Takeover Toronto when she had her first match back against Asuka and she looked like she hadn’t lost a step in this one. Her work has been top notch in her Smackdown run and it was no different tonight.
James took the younger Lynch to the woodshed until Becky was able to pull off a jackknife pin. The announcers did a great job of putting over what a monumental win it was for Becky Lynch and the manner in which she was dominated in the match kept Mickie James strong and gave a compelling reason for a rematch if they decide to go that route.
I really hope they do have a whole series of matches because Lynch and James have amazing in-ring chemistry. This was a great example of everything women’s wrestling can be when storylines are given the time to develop and matches are given significant amounts of time to get going.
Match #2: Dolph Ziggler vs. Apollo Crews and Kalisto
I really didn’t get the booking going into this one. A heel in a handicapped match is always a weird thing because this type of match has generally been most effectively used as a means of getting babyfaces over by having them overcome impossible odds or getting heels easy heat by having gang up on somebody.
I’ve never seen it used effectively with the heel as the underdog. With the exception of this match perhaps.
If the idea was to sacrifice Crews and Kalisto to get this new vicious Dolph Ziggler over. It worked perfectly.
Ziggler took out Kalisto before the match started by throwing him head first into the LED display on the stage. They even had some panels rigged to shoot some sparks and short out for effect.
He then went to work on Crews and really looked like a total bad ass doing it. I’m really digging the new evil Dolph and his ringwork. The assault on Crews that focused totally on his neck included some really nice neckbreakers and a hangman on the ropes that Dolph put some extra torque on to make it look especially brutal. Ziggler’s offense has never been better.
Ziggler’s always top notch selling helped Crews quite a bit as well and if they’re going to ever do anything with Apollo at all, Dolph Ziggler is exactly the type of guy they should program him with. His in-ring work would grow by leaps and bounds just by learning from a talented veteran like Dolph. You could see the chemistry they had in this one and I can’t think of another opponent who has made Crews offense look as potent as Ziggler can.
Kalisto eventually limped out, hit a sick handspring kick and tagged in Crews to finish off Dolph. When Dolph absolutely lost it and took both of them out with a chair which included him Pillmanizing Crews not once, but twice.
Although the “Thank you Ziggler” chants that resulted probably weren’t what they were going for.
In all honesty, Crews might be a case where they brought someone up from NXT too soon as he could really use some more seasoning and time to develop his character more and get some better flow to his matches. If the injury angle sees him resurface there, it wouldn’t be a bad thing.
Neither would an extended program with Dolph, but they’d have to do a lot of work to get Crews over again.
Match #3: WWE Smackdown Tag Team Championship: Tag Team Turmoil
I spend so much time talking about how much better Smackdown is than Raw at handling the women’s division that I’ve neglected to talk about how much better Smackdown is at handling the tag team division as well.
Just like Raw can’t seem to handle much beyond Charlotte’s title program. For a long time the focus was solely on New Day and whoever they were defending against. Even with the belts off the New Day, the focus is now just on Sheamus and Cesaro vs. Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson. Over and over and over again.
Contrast that with Smackdown, where every tag team participating in this match has been given time to develop themselves. A lot of feature matches on the show and enough time in front of the audience to get them familiar with their major spots and character work.
How Raw can’t do these things with an extra hour, I’ll never know.
Heath Slater and Rhyno vs. Breezango
Tyler Breeze deserves better.
Dude can work and sell with the best of them. Yet instead of being given a nice mid-card solo push and the chance to get over, here he is in Breezango. That isn’t to say that Breezango isn’t entertaining as hell because it is and Breeze and Fandango work incredibly well together and are hilarious and clearly having fun in these roles. It is to say that Breeze is capable of way more and if WWE doesn’t give him the chance to break out and become the star he can be, I hope he gets that chance elsewhere.
Then again, there is no better example of someone who has been saddled with some lemons, constantly turned them into lemonade and now got himself way over than Heath Slater. Whenever a wrestling you like seems to be in a dead end position, remember Slater. He was stuck feuding with Flo Rida for fuck’s sake. Now he’s one of the legitimately most over acts in the company. That’s where persistence and hard work can get you sometimes.
These two teams got almost five minutes to work together – rare in turmoil match – and really made the most of it. There was a nice mix of solid ring work and great comedy spots like Fandango giving out fashion violations while blocking Slater’s sunset flip.
It all finished with a gore from Rhyno (still the best spear of them all) before leading to….
The Vaudevillains vs. Rhyno and Heath Slater
English and Gotch are so good in these roles that it’s probably going to be a while before they get out of them. Having said that, I would like to see them tweaked a bit so that The Vaudevillains can get more of a serious push. They can carry their end in the ring.
Not that you got to see a ton of it tonight before Heath Slater planted Aiden English with a beautiful DDT to put them away.
Rhyno and Heath Slater vs. The Usos
Speaking of repackaging tag teams, the Usos have been killing it since their heel turn and gimmick change. Gone are all the Samoan tribal chants and face paint in place of a no-nonsense ass-kicking style that lets Jimmy and Jey show off their impressive offense and not have to pander for the fans.
I like it because it refreshes two veterans who were getting a bit stale and gives them brand no life. I like it more because the Usos are actually really good in the ring and breaking free of the formula they kept recycling as babyfaces really helps them get back their creativity and gives them the ability to try new things.
They dispatched Rhyno and Slater pretty easily here and deserve that type of strong showing because I think we’re all ready for the heel Usos to get a nice push and a nice long feud over the belts.
Speaking of which…..
American Alpha vs. The Usos
This feud needs to be given a nice, long program with a couple of title changes. It’s needed that since the Usos cost American Alpha in the Smackdown tag team championship tournament and it’s such great booking that they kept that iron in the fire and never forgot about it and now it looks like we’re going to get it.
This was by far the strongest segment of the tag team turmoil as these teams have incredible chemistry and Jordan and Gable are off the charts as workers. Seriously, these guys are destined for big things in WWE. Jason Jordan has future WrestleMania main even written all over him. The guy is handsome, jacked and has natural charisma. It’s like Vince McMahon dreamed him into existence. Gable is a work rate machine as well.
We need to enjoy American Alpha while they’re together because the company will eventually see the value in them as singles stars and neither guy is going to be a Marty Jannetty.
The Usos stiffing the hell and out of them with kicks and American Alpha responding with some nice tight suplexes really makes me want to see these teams get at least twenty minutes to tell a nice story and some gimmick matches as well. A program between these two leading to something big at WrestleMania could be something special.
The issue was left wide open after Gable rolled up Jimmy Uso for the pin as the Usos absolutely took apart American Alpha and left lying. Easy pickings for…..
The Ascension vs. American Alpha
I really thought that they were going to pull the trigger on an Ascension title reign here. That’s a credit to the Smackdown booking team as the team has been treated like an absolute joke after being called up from NXT until the brand split.
Smackdown creative has really gone a long way to re-establish The Ascension as a viable threat. While they’ll probably never get to be the dominant monsters they were during their reign as NXT champions, Konnor and Viktor are still great power wrestlers and deserve better than they were getting. I’m glad to see a renewed focus on them and that they’re getting re-established as a real tag team title threat.
The pop for Jason Jordan kicking out of the Fall of Man was as much a result of The Ascension being credible again as it was about American Alpha being over. That felt good to see.
Even though they got taken out by Grand Amplitude, The Ascension is now firmly re-established as a top tag team and the chemistry they’ve shown with American Alpha hopefully leads to more matches down the line.
As far as tag team turmoil matches go, this was a really enjoyable one and set up a lot for the future. Mainly what promises to be a great program between American Alpha and The Usos.
Match #4: Nikki Bella vs. Natalya
I have to say that this feud has been one of the most compelling and well-booked in the entire company. With the exception of the Wyatt Family intrigue, it’s definitely the top angle on Smackdown and it’s telling a story that’s almost beautiful in its simplicity.
Natalya attacked Nikki Bella to steal her spot at Survivor Series out of jealousy. After spending some time lying about it, she finally came clean and spoke her hatred of Nikki for getting the Total Divas spin-off, shit talked Nikki’s relationship with John Cena. Away we go. Sometimes the simplest stories are by far the best ones.
This match was incredible. I expected it to be pretty good because Natalya has always been a very good worker and is more than capable of laying out and setting the pace for a match, but to say this one exceeded my expectations is an understatement.
Huge props are due to both women. Natalya was vicious in her assault and her heel antics (miming Cena’s “You Can’t See Me” taunt, yelling at Nikki’s mom who was sitting ringside and audibly calling Nikki Bella all kinds of foul stuff) were outstanding and really upped the ante in the match. Nikki, for her part, took some insane bumps. If the rumours are true that she is going to need a significant amount of time off – if not retirement – after WrestleMania due to her feeling numb on an entire side of her body and other complications from her major neck surgery, she literally put her body on the line for our entertainment.
Nikki took some absolutely insane bumps. A Michinoku Driver, a crazy bump onto the floor and a ring post bump that made me wince in pain just from watching it were just some of the spots that Nikki took that a person in her rumoured condition had no business doing. But she’s been busting her ass like this in the ring since her return from injury and as much as marks like to dump all over her, Nikki Bella has become quite the capable worker. It’s a testament to her work ethic and drive that she has never rested on her reality show laurels and relationship with the top star in the company to justify her position but has worked hard and gotten better.
If this is truly the last run for Nikki Bella she deserves the attention and focus and excellent story that this feud is providing her and I will truly be sorry to see her go.
This was honestly one of my favourite women’s matches and will certainly be a top one for the year just for the vicious way the two went at each other. They told a story in the ring that lived up to the hype and time that this feud has been given. These were clearly two women who hated each other. That was the story these ladies were able to convey and I am really glad that this one got almost fifteen minutes to tell that story.
I’m also really happy that it ended in a double count-out as I would really like to see some more matches between Nikki and Natalya. The whole thing really warrants being blown off in a cage or some other gimmick match.
Seriously, I can’t wait until Tuesday night to see what happens next and that is the best thing you can say about any wrestling angle.
Match #5: Randy Orton vs. Luke Harper
Speaking of feuds I want to continue, can these two just actually fight forever?
The crowd didn’t seem certain who to cheer for in the early goings of this this one, but once it got going they really started to get behind Harper and his impressive offense. He’s got some of the best kicks in the business and is very agile for his size. It’s also really clear that he’s been busting his ass in the gym as he has gotten noticeably more cut in recent weeks.
I’m ready for a Luke Harper mega push.
Randy Orton continues to be dialed in as well. When Orton is motivated and invested, there are few better in wrestling and it’s pretty clear that he’s really enjoying his role in the Wyatt storyline. He is really a textbook ring psychologist and that’s why he excels so much as a heel. He can set such a good pace in matches and it really helps lay out great stories. The one he told here was no different as he worked to grind down the bigger, stronger Harper and try to weaken him so he could set him up for the RKO.
Both of these guys have such crisp and smooth strikes and the transition spots in the match were really a joy to watch. As were the exchange and lock up spots. They really had it going on and it’s rare that you see two guys tell such a great story in a traditional wrestling match without a ton of flying and high spots.
In that sense, it felt really old school and different; a match that could have been on an old NWA Starcade match as much as it could have been taking place in the modern era. It still would have torn the house down as much then as it did last night and that really is a testament to the all-time greatness of Randy Orton, the promise of the emerging Luke Harper and the timelessness that the wrestling archetypes each man is playing.
This match really was a thing of beauty because wrestling often works the best when it’s at its most basic and simple. These two were in the Wyatt Family together, they didn’t like each other, Luke turned face and here we are.
The Wyatt Family angle has easily been the best built and slowest burning one since the brand split and it’s rare that WWE is able to tell a story from beginning to end. While this match was just a chapter in a larger story, it was also an impressive spectacle in and of itself.
I’m really hoping that wherever this storyline goes from here that it results in many more matches between Luke Harper and Randy Orton.
Match #6: WWE Smackdown Women’s Championship: Alexa Bliss vs. Naomi
Alexa Bliss is the MVP of the entire women’s division. Not just Smackdown, but for the entire main roster.
While Bayley, Sasha Banks, Becky Lynch and Charlotte Flair are all unquestionably better workers than Alexa Bliss. She has way more charisma than them all as well as not having been sacrificed to the Charlotte overpush.
Unlike Charlotte, Bliss has been able to show vulnerability and resort to typical heel tactics on a regular basis which keeps her strong as well as makes the fans hope for a face to take the title from her. That vulnerability really helps keep her matches compelling and her opponents credible as there is no need to sacrifice them to protect some silly PPV winning streak.
Bliss also has easily the best facial expressions in the business and her charisma projects her into a larger than life character and makes her loom way larger than her tiny 5’0” frame.
I could honestly write about Alexa Bliss all day and I intend to. That’s hype for a future column BTW.
Anyway this match is one that could only happen with a champion like Alexa Bliss. Can you imagine anyone taking a Charlotte-Naomi match seriously? No, because on Raw, Naomi would have never been allowed to become more than cannon fodder. Here she’s a credible challenger.
Naomi deserves this position too. Much like every other woman on Smackdown, she’s been working hard and just delivering in the ring like she never has. It’s amazing how far that she’s come since her days as a Funkadactyl and the really sloppy stuff she served up in her first wrestling matches. She went down to NXT and busted her ass and continued working hard on the main roster and deserves to be where she is.
The surprise title change here exemplifies what Smackdown gets right that Raw gets so long. When I was a kid Vince McMahon (who was portrayed as a simple announcer in those days) used to declare: “Anything can happen in the World Wrestling Federation!” and moments like this title change remind us of how true that maxim is.
Even if it’s just going to be a two week run (and given that they’ve already announced a rematch in two weeks it probably will be), Naomi deserves this run as a testament for how hard she’s worked to get to this position.
Alexa Bliss deserves that title back and a WrestleMania spot for playing a bigger role than anyone in the success of the Smackdown women’s division and for unselfishly putting Naomi over. The two followed two already amazing women’s matches and managed to top them both. They had amazing chemistry in the ring and I am clearing my schedule for the rematch.
I love wrestling.
Match #7: Elimination Chamber Match for the WWE Championship: John Cena vs. AJ Styles vs. Dean Ambrose vs. Baron Corbin vs. Bray Wyatt
This was an absolute classic Elimination Chamber match. I’m trying to think of where it ranks for me all time and I’m having a hard time not placing it at or near the top.
It cemented itself as an all-time classic by starting out with John Cena and AJ Styles giving us five more minutes of one-on-one action between the two guys who have set the ring on fire every single time they’ve matched up.
John Cena has had many classic feuds and matches with many opponents. I wrote about his career extensively here. His chemistry with AJ Styles is otherworldly. I don’t think they are capable of locking up and having anything less than the best match on the card. I don’t know what they’re doing with each man at WrestleMania but giving them an hour and letting them have at it would make me really happy.
Remember how long we dreamed of that match when Styles top dog in TNA and Cena was starting his unprecedented run as the face of WWE? It’s not often that we get dream matches that exceed any expectations that we have of them. John Cena vs. AJ Styles has blown my mind in ways that I will never fully recover from and probably ruined any such dream match for me in the future. That’s how good it’s been.
So giving me more of that, right away indicates that this is going to be an all-time great Elimination Chamber match.
Once Ambrose entered the fray, he lived up to his “lunatic fringe” moniker and went after both Cena and Styles and made liberal use of the Elimination Chamber as a weapon, particularly in his assault on John Cena. Dean Ambrose really excels in gimmick and weapons matches and this was no different. He’s the perfect example of a worker finding the perfect character to accentuate his strengths.
Bray Wyatt came in at number four and immediately got some showcase spots for his offense against his three opponents which was nice to see because too often Bray stands behind the other Wyatt Family members while they deliver the punishment or is on the receiving end of a beating for something that the Wyatts have done to a top face. Seeing him enter this sort of match and be able to just to a participant and focus on his in-ring work above his excellent character work allows us to see more of and appreciate Bray Wyatt as a worker rather than the best gimmick in the business. I think we forget too often how good he is in the ring as well as on the mic.
Baron Corbin really got to steal the show in a star making turn though. Once he entered the fray he absolutely destroyed everyone. He got to hit End of Days on John Cena and AJ Styles, the current and previous WWE Champion, in succession and laid out Dean Ambrose and Bray Wyatt in impressive displays of power. He looked absolutely dominant over the top guys on the blue brand.
Even the way he was eliminated kept him strong as he was taunting The Miz to come and get his beating when he was cheaply rolled up by Dean Ambrose for a quick pin. The absolute destruction he inflicted on Ambrose following the pin was definitely what will stick with people more than the elimination itself and hopefully sets the stage for Corbin to take Ambrose’s Intercontinental title on the road to bigger and better things.
Shout out to The Miz too who continues his streak of excellent character work by hiding from Baron Corbin and then picking the bones of Dean Ambrose by pinning him after he was destroyed by Corbin. There are very few guys in the business that would probably be comfortable playing such a chickenshit heel for so long. Let alone as well as The Miz does. Seriously, it’s time for The Miz to eventually get another main event run except unlike his WrestleMania 27 main event; the fans will actually be behind it. We’re asking for it now.
Maybe it will even come against John Cena again. Cena eliminating him with the AA certainly could lead down that down given that neither man has a storyline set in stone for WrestleMania.
This lead to an amazing sequence between Wyatt, Cena and Styles that saw Cena kick out of a Styles Clash, Styles kick out of an AA and Cena go off the top of a pod to take everyone out only to eat a Sister Abigail and get eliminated by Bray Wyatt.
The Wyatt-Styles sequence to end was also great and has me hoping for a match between the two in the near future. It told a great story with Wyatt trying to ground and pound the high flying Styles, but AJ kept coming at him. Bray took a Pele kick, a flying forearm and a 450 splash but still kicked out before turning a missed 450 by Styles into a Sister Abigail for the pin and his first WWE Championship.
It’s about time. Bray Wyatt has been unquestionably the best character in professional wrestling for year. His excellent in ring work has often been overshadowed by his character work but both have been well on display in the Wyatt Family angle with Randy Orton as of late. An angle that now looks to be culminating in the WWE Championship match and WrestleMania.
Bray Wyatt deserves this. He’s deserved it for a long time and I’m really happy it’s finally happening for him.
From a storyline perspective, it’s a dark day for the WWE now that the Wyatt Family controls the top title, but in reality there is nothing better than seeing someone who has delivered day in and day out for years with one of the best acts in all of professional wrestling finally get his due.
Elimination Chamber was a great show. In many ways I liked it even more than the Royal Rumble. The conclusion of every single match on the show had me saying one thing: I can’t wait until Tuesday night. That is the mark of a PPV that’s done its job.
If you missed it on Sunday, watch it – preferably before Smackdown. Highest possible recommendation.