By Will Pruett
As most readers of my writing know, I love going to live wrestling shows. It’s basically the coolest thing ever. I’ve had the opportunity to most special structure matches live. Every time I see the Elimination Chamber on the calendar, I feel a little twinge of regret. In a sense, it’s my white whale. There are only two special structure matches I can think of I haven’t experienced inside an arena:
- The Punjabi Prison Match.
- The Elimination Chamber Match.
While I know I’ll always regret not road-tripping out to the Allstate Arena for No Mercy 2007 to see Batista and Great Khali in a sure-fire epic, I have resigned myself to never seeing a Punjabi Prison match.
The Elimination Chamber is still happening and has now been modified to be most pleasant to wrestle in and to watch.
The old chamber was as unforgiving as advertised, with metal grating on the outside that demanded wrestlers sacrifice their backs to it. It also created a ton of challenges on the sides. The structure practically demanded that wrestlers climb to the top of the pods to jump off, creating spectacular moments, but it didn’t provide them the necessary room. It was an interesting stipulation match, but the structure itself seemed to limit the match more than it helped.
Enter the All New All Different Elimination Chamber last night. The new Chamber follows WWE’s odd trend of outfitting everything possible with LED Lights. They can’t help themselves. Kevin Dunn must have lights lining every surface in his office in WWE headquarters. It’s seriously absurd. I’d ask if LED lit wrestlers were next, but Naomi and Chris Jericho have proven that the answer is yes.
This is a taller and less round Chamber. It has corners for wrestlers to stand in and the same “Lexan” pods that a bullet could never make it through (obviously a major concern in the troubled times). It also has the same “Lexan” in various placed on the top of the Chamber. This allows us to actually see down into the ring through crane camera shots. This was pretty neat, but it seemed like the director kept trying something that didn’t work how they thought it would when the same shot kept just showing us a closeup of where the roof met the wall with minimal ring.
For the match itself, this Chamber provided more opportunities for excitement and for wrestler safety. This sort of match will always hurt, but this was the Chamber getting the chance to ramp up excitement and ramp down risk. This is the best of both worlds.
In this actual Elimination Chamber match, we saw Bray Wyatt get his big moment in winning the WWE Championship. It seemed like a foregone conclusion going into this show and it felt like one as we left. Even Daniel Bryan’s assertion that there are seven weeks until WrestleMania felt hollow, as the writing has been on the wall for a month.
I enjoyed this Chamber match and would put it in the upper echelon of this match type. There was never an aura of unpredictability, but there was some good storytelling throughout. John Cena and AJ Styles continued their very even feud. The Miz’s fear of Baron Corbin continued. Corbin was able to look like a monster while slipping on a banana peel. Wyatt was almost an afterthought in this match until we saw the final three of Wyatt, Cena, and Styles.
Bray Wyatt as the All New All Different WWE World Champion (Am I forcing a reference to Marvel Comics’ 2015 relaunch? Yes.) is fine, but he certainly doesn’t feel like a WrestleMania main event worthy champion. Wyatt and Orton have been telling this story for a long time, but it isn’t clicking with me as anything more than a mid-card program.
The end of this show saw Orton and Wyatt looking at each other and me thinking about how low on the card this could be at WrestleMania. I hate seeing a good year of Smackdown end up with a disappointing main event at the biggest show of the year.
The structure worked. The match was fine. The result was expected. The New Elimination Chamber didn’t provide any surprises. Hopefully I’ll get to see one live sometime. Also, hopefully we’ll have one last Punjabi Prison Match as well.
And now for some random thoughts:
– Smackdown needs to figure out a better plot device than having heels attack babyfaces after they’ve lost. On this show Natalya, The Usos, Baron Corbin, and Dolph Ziggler all did this. These were four separate segments in four separate matches. An after-the-match/elimination attack is the new contract signing. They can be better than this.
– The Smackdown undercard was exposed as underdeveloped and fairly weak on this show. With six of the top male stars on the brand in one match together, WWE had a lot of space to fill. They didn’t fill it with compelling stories between various tag teams. They filled it with all the tag teams in multiple pointless matches. They didn’t decide to give us a major character moment for anyone. Smackdown is a solid and logical show, but it isn’t developing characters in the undercard. Does anyone have a reason to care about four of the tag teams, Kalisto, or Apollo Crews?
– Naomi winning the Smackdown Women’s Championship was a surprise to me. I am not sure about the move. Alexa Bliss has been clicking as Champion and it felt like she could be a longterm lead in the division. It would feel a little similar to Charlotte on Raw though. Naomi’s quest to walk into her hometown for WrestleMania as Women’s Champion does provide a neat story (and some obstacles for her to overcome). Their match was alright, but it never seemed to get going at a high level. Generally, the Smackdown Women’s Division is missing the statement-style matches Sasha and Charlotte have been able to have on Raw. I wonder if Naomi is capable of delivering on this level.
– I appreciated the effort to put three women’s division matches on this show. Smackdown does a nice job with the small women’s roster it has.
– Becky Lynch vs. Mickie James was fun, but I’d argue the wrong woman won. James needs a major establishing moment after a semi-flat return. I’ve enjoyed her character and mic work, but she needs a big win. Lynch didn’t have much to lose here and it would have set up some interesting stories to be told with James going forward.
– Randy Orton vs. Luke Harper was a good match and a good moment for Harper, despite the fact that he lost. I’m interested to see if Harper gains anything from this big moment. He is one of the most underutilized wrestlers in WWE when comparing his ability and his story. I don’t want to see Harper get lost in the shuffle and I’d probably structure (what I assume will be) the Intercontinental Championship Ladder Match at WrestleMania around him getting a big win.
– Natalya and Nikki Bella had a good match, but the ending and continuation of the story does nothing for me. I have long been tired of their feud and the way it has been built around John Cena. Nikki hasn’t been a great babyface as she’s had trouble refuting claims that her career only exists because of Cena. Where is the fiery promo from Nikki showing this isn’t true? It’d be awesome to hear.
– I could see Nikki Bella and Natalya main eventing a future Smackdown episode. We have to do something to get to WrestleMania.
– While I strongly dislike Apollo Crews, I am super tired of Dolph Ziggler as well.
– American Alpha doing a weekly open challenge and having weekly great tag matches would be a far better idea than anything Alpha has done on the main roster.
Got thoughts on this show or my review of it? Hit me up with them! Check the Twitter @wilpruett, leave a comment, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.