By Jason Powell
WWE Elimination Chamber Hits
John Cena vs. AJ Styles vs. Dean Ambrose vs. The Miz vs. Baron Corbin vs. Bray Wyatt in an Elimination Chamber match for the WWE Championship: First off, a big thumbs up on the new Chamber design. From a visual standpoint, the old Chamber looks more impressive, but the important thing is that the new Chamber is safer, particularly with the padding over the grating located outside the ring. Plus, and it gives the older guys another “Back in my day…” line, so everyone should be happy. The match itself was highly entertaining and made the show.
It’s a shame that WWE isn’t doing more to protect the outcomes of their matches. The Bray Wyatt vs. Randy Orton scenario leaked prior to the Royal Rumble, and it requires merely a late look at the betting odds and for fans to find out the results of most pay-per-view matches before they take place. WWE works hard to hide surprise wrestlers in busses before they appear, yet they don’t seem to be doing anything extra to protect their match outcomes from getting out.
Putting that aside, good stories were told in the Chamber match. Corbin roughing up Ambrose after being eliminated by him should spark a new feud. Cena pinning Miz may come back to haunt him given what happened with Nikki Bella and Maryse. Most importantly, Wyatt was put over strong at the end of the match with pinfall victories over the last two men to hold the championship. I still despise the idea of having new champions rather than long-term title holders going into WrestleMania, but WWE went above and beyond to make Wyatt look strong.
Randy Orton vs. Luke Harper: JBL framed this as a coming out party for Harper. Keep in mind that JBL has also raved about Harper in Smackdown losses to Kane, which led to nothing for Harper. The competitive nature of this match would seem to suggest that creative does have more in mind for him this time around. Is it possible that the Smackdown Championship match at WrestleMania will somehow become a Triple Threat with the hook being that the Wyatt Family all meet in one match? Either way, this was the best singles match of the night, and it was cool to hear the live crowd go from near silence when Harper made his entrance to cheering him on during the final minutes of the match. The key for Harper is what happens next.
Nikki Bella vs. Natalya: Both women get an A for effort. They were clearly motivated and worked a good brawl. It seemed like they wanted to deliver something truly memorable. They came up short in that regard, but you have to respect the effort. The double count-out finish was fine despite the crowd’s negative reaction. This brand has a lot of television time to fill before WrestleMania, so this wasn’t a time to blow off every non-WrestleMania feud. The brawl between the two backstage that led to Natalya shoving Nikki into Maryse is likely step one toward the rumored Cena and Nikki vs. Miz and Maryse mixed tag match. It definitely feels beneath the expectations that fans have for Cena at WrestleMania, but we’ll see if they can change that with a strong build.
Alexa Bliss vs. Naomi for the Smackdown Women’s Championship: A minor Hit for the feel good finish of Naomi winning her first championship and getting emotional in response to fans chanting “you deserve it.” The match was decent, yet it was also the weakest of the three women’s matches. Bliss rolling into the split-legged moonsault finisher appeared to be painful.
WWE Elimination Chamber Misses
Becky Lynch vs. Mickie James: A minor Miss for the pay-per-view opener. I mentioned that the Bliss vs. Naomi match was the worst of the women’s matches, but Lynch vs. James was the most disappointing. I had high hopes for the match, but it was merely solid and forgettable. The live crowd doesn’t seem to care about James yet. Who can blame them? She was introduced as the silly La Luchadora, the crowd gave her first promo the What? treatment, and then she basically repeated the same promo at the contract signing. James is an excellent heel, and Lynch is arguably the best female babyface in WWE. Here’s hoping WWE finds a way to get heat on James and then give these two another shot as their matches should get better as they develop more in-ring chemistry.
Apollo Crews and Kalisto vs. Dolph Ziggler in a handicap match: This was somehow worse than the segments involving Carmella and James Ellsworth. It’s hard to blame the wrestlers in that this was doomed from the moment it was advertised as two babyfaces wrestling one heel in a handicap match. Was anyone really surprised when the fans sided with Ziggler and thanked him for taking out Crews and Kalisto during post match beatdown?
American Alpha vs. The Usos vs. Tyler Breeze and Fandango vs. The Vaudevillains vs. Heath Slater and Rhyno vs. The Ascension in a turmoil match for the Smackdown Tag Titles: The match was booked well in that Slater and Rhyno’s popularity kept the fans engaged early, and they picked the right team in the Usos to attack Alpha, and the right team in the Ascension to fail to take advantage of the weary tag champions. Everyone involved worked hard, but the Miss goes to the Smackdown brand continuing to lump so many tag teams into one match. There’s surely pressure to get all these wrestlers on the various shows, but it continues to be detrimental to the tag division. Alpha is not nearly as over as they should be, and none of these other teams have been positioned as strong contenders. Hopefully they are finally getting The Usos vs. Alpha feud, which is clearly the best potential tag feud the brand has to offer.