Tag Team Match
Roman Reigns & Dean Ambrose
The Authority's Seth Rollins & Kane with J&J Security
Things kicked off this week with The Authority (minus the A.W.O.L. Big Show) announcing that Seth Rollins' World Heavyweight Championship match with Dean Ambrose at Elimination Chamber would only go ahead if Ambrose could get to sign the contract for the match. With the theme of the entire episode laid out early, Ambrose and Rollins had some fun back and forth on the microphone, including Ambrose referring to J&J Security as a hobbits and Rollins debating the finer points of being referred to as Justin Bieber by the WWE Universe. There's so much chemistry between the two rivals that it's almost a shame to have so many others involved in this feud. Things would eventually lead to Stephanie McMahon booking a tag team match with Rollins & Kane taking on Ambrose and Roman Reigns.
The match was a decent enough encounter, although the match itself was remarkably similar to a plethora of matches that we've seen on Raw and Smackdown over the last six months. Reigns and Ambrose spent a surprising amount of time in control of the match, with the commentary team pointing out that this was due to their familiarity from their days in The Shield, whilst this makes sense when you don't think about it, as soon as you consider that Kane & Rollins have teamed up seventeen times in the last ten months with Ambrose and Reigns only teaming three times, that logic gets completely lost. The closing sequence that saw Rollins and Ambrose going back and forth with a handful of reversal before Ambrose picked up the win with backslide was the highlight of an otherwise paint by number, go through the motions tag bout.
Things would get interesting during a backstage segment where J&J Security would confront Ambrose during an interview with Renee Young. After Ambrose lost his cool with Noble and Mercury, Ambrose hit the camera man, in what would turn out to be a far-cleverer segment than it originally looked. The camera man would go on to press charges, with the Authority and especially Rollins gloating as Ambrose was carted off by the police. Rollins line "Jail is too good for him. He belongs in a zoo" was perhaps the highlight of the entire show. Stephanie and Triple H were later joined by RAW guest stars Kevin Connoly (Entourage, Unhappily Ever After), Adrian Grenier (Entorauge), Kevin Dillon (Entourage, Platoon) and Jerry Ferrara (Entourage) who were there to promote the upcoming film version of HBO's Entourage. The segment was pretty unremarkable, featuring awkward interaction between the two, but the reference to Stephanie's clash with Ronda Rousey at WrestleMania 31 was a nice touch and will almost certainly keep the rumour mill turning. The use of a Youtube video to show that Rollins had pushed the camera man into Ambrose earlier in the night was a novel way to reveal how things had really went down.
The main event segment of the show centered around The Authority gloating about Ambrose being unable to sign the contract for his match with Rollins at Elimination Chamber, with Rollins masterfully skimming past his involvement in Ambrose's arrest. Reigns coming out to confront the Authority, only to get beaten down in quick fashion thanks to a chokeslam from Kane, felt a little superfluous, other than needing to keep Reigns face on television. Of course, Ambrose was able to make it back to the arena, driving the police van that took him away and wearing police uniform (I'd love to hear someone try to explain that) eventually able to sign the contract after he and Reigns hit Rollins with police batons, Reigns had speared J&J Security and Ambrose had hit Dirty Deeds on Kane. It did it's job, I suppose, but the whole segment and story was too convoluted for my tastes, and similar to last week seemed to be trying to fit weeks of storyline into one week. Holding off on the Ambrose vs. Rollins match until Money in the Bank would have offered a much more satisfying tragectory for the pair, without having to have the story dominate the show (Almost 45 minutes of air time was dedicated to this storyline)
United States Championship Match
Zack Ryder with The Cast of Entourage
John Cena (C)
It was once again to jump on the Hustle Loyalty and Respect tram to Cenation boulevard, as John Cena opened up the challenges for the United States Championship. Beginning with a strong promo from Cena, in which the Cenation Leader talked about the "Let's Go Cena" "Cena sucks" chants, pulling them apart and separating the two fan groups, before admitting those who chant "Cena Sucks" may be chanting "Fight Owens Fight" at Elimination Chamber. Cena has showed just how clever he can be with these promos over the last two months and this may be his brightest moment as United States Champion. Whilst many will feel rebellious for chanting against Cena on Sunday, as a certain section of the fanbase loves to do, they'll in fact be doing just what John Cena (and crucially the WWE) wants them to do, which should hopefully lead to cracking atmosphere inside the American Bank Center.
After being introduced by the Entourage cast, it was hometown boy Zack Ryder who made his way out to accept the open challenge. It may have only been his second singles match on Monday Night Raw of 2015, but the Uniondale crowd couldn't have cared less as they lapped up Ryder's entrance and were strongly behind him all match long. Ryder clearly still has a connection with the audience, especially in New York and it's surprising how little he is used on WWE's two main shows. Four matches on Raw and no match on Smackdown since September is mind boggling considering how over Ryder still is with live crowd. Maybe a run on NXT might help WWE find a place for him?
Inside the ring the action was decent enough, with Ryder battling through Cena's patented offence thanks to a little distraction from fellow Long Island native Kevin Connoly, running through a series of his signature moves (including his own version of the Tommykaze/Tommyknocker/Impaler/Unprettier/Killswitch) all of which got decent to good reaction from the crowd, with the Rough Ryder especially working well as a near fall. The highlight of the match though had to be Ryder's missed 450 splash, seriously when has Zack Ryder ever done a 450 splash? It put over what the match meant to the Long Island Iced Z, and even with Cena pulling out the win with the Attitude Adjustment, made for a great moment.
With Ryder and the Entourage lads leaving Cena to celebrate, it as time for NXT Champion Kevin Owens to make his presence felt once more. Owens delivered a Pop-up powerbomb to Cena and in scene similar to last week held the NXT title belt aloft whilst standing on the United States belt. Owens has been allowed to look very impressive over the last two weeks both on Monday Night RAW and at NXT Takeover: Unstoppable, and he's really picked up the ball he's been handed by WWE and sprinted with it. The simple build to Cena and Owens' match at Elimination Chamber has felt the most natural out of all the other feuds we've seen going on over the last two weeks, allowed to grow at it's own pace, whilst building an strong feeling of excitement for their clash on Sunday.
This match finds itself so far up this review thanks to a lot to the story-line activities that followed it. Going just a minute, Rusev, now proudly waving a Bulgarian flag, destroyed Truth in a quick fashion, picking up the win via submission with the accolade. Firstly, I'm not sure why WWE have put R-Truth in the Elimination Chamber for the Intercontinental Championship when they clearly don't have any real direction for him. Secondly, if WWE really wanted R-Truth in the chamber match why have him get absolutely destroyed by Rusev? Surely, there was someone else knocking around that could have been fed to the Bulgarian Brute?
Rusev went on to repeatedly call out Lana. Seriously I lost count of the amount of times that the Super-Athlete pleaded for his former manager to join him in the ring, before she eventually came out in her Miss Hancock-esque attire. Full of the WWE style soap area the pairs interactions was a well-scripted see saw of a segment, that had me hooked from start to finish. The narrative was easy to follow with Lana initially seeming to want to reconcile with Rusev until he asked her to say she was wrong, which, of course, didn't go down to well. WWE script writers often get it in the neck for their writing, but this segment was done very nicely, getting over a lot of information in a short amount of time.
Whilst the script writers deserve praise for the segment, it could have fallen apart if it weren't for Rusev and Lana pulling out their strong performances on the microphone that I can remember. Lana particularly took her chance and ran with it, with a superb tirade on Rusev at the conclusion of the segment, delivered with real venom. After what had gone before it was easy to believe she genuinely hated her former charge. The development that Rusev is an old-fashioned kind of fellow ("You need to know your place, woman!") was an interesting touch, and whilst it might be another slice of WWE stereotyping foreign performers, Rusev handled it well and got strong reactions from the crowd with his lines.
With Lana heading for the back, new love interest Dolph Ziggler took the opportunity to come out for smooch. This was a bit of a dick-ish thing for the babyface Ziggler to do, in all honesty, even if the kiss was little more than a peck on the lips. Whilst I'm enjoying the feud between Lana and Rusev, it's notable that things do feel a little bit rushed between the two. Perhaps if Lana had been kept off TV following her dismissal by Rusev last week, allowing things to breath (with Rusev in the Elimination Chamber there was no real need for the program to start right away) everything could have been that little bit more assured, and produced something that felt like it was growing a little more natural than what we've seen over the last two weeks. Almost proving my point, that wasn't the last we'd see of Rusev and Lana this week...
The pairs third televised singles match in just over five weeks struggled to meet the standard of their previous two bouts. Essentially a match of two halves, I found the early part of the contest rather dull. Despite a big tilt-a-whirl slam on the outside and a tilt-a-whirl backbreaker, the match didn't find it's natural groove of the big Irishman working the show-off's back, or at least Ziggler just didn't fancy selling it. All the passion and fury that the two had bought to their rivalry over the last two months had been dropped and two simply had a match, which for someone who had bought into what had been an interesting and exciting program was a little disappointing to see.
Whilst the fire had gone, the closing sequence was done well, with both Lana and Rusev turning up a ringside. A lovely reversal sequence that saw *takes breath* a jumping DDT by Ziggler, turned into White Noise by Sheamus, turned into a Roll by Ziggler, turned into a Brogue Kick attempt by Sheamus, that would eventually lead to Sheamus connected with the ringpost, before Ziggler hit a superkick for two, was smooth as hell and produced a good reaction from the live crowd for the near fall. It was Rusev's involvement that would get the win for Sheamus however, as the Bulgarian caused the distraction that allowed Sheamus to pick up the win with a Brogue Kick. Rusev's then demoltion of Ziggler, placing him in the accolade whilst screaming "Kiss him now" at Lana was a pleasant end to the segment.
Ten-on-Three Handicap Match
The Lucha Dragons, The Ascension, Los Matadores, The Prime Time Players, Cesaro & Tyson Kidd with El Torito & Natalya
The New Day
Booked by Kane (go figure) this match followed a promo from The New Day in which they complained about being placed in an Elimination Chamber match this Sunday. The three continued to show off solid mic work, with the Nassau Colisseum eating up everything that the trio had to say. Whilst some of it was cheap heat, it was heat non-the-less, as Xavier Woods, Kofi Kingston and Big E continued to push forward as one of the most over acts on WWE's TV product. Kane's interruption and talk about fairness did little for no-one, seeing he's supposed to be a heel, the Big Red Monster then booking them into a ten on three handicap made even less sense. It's difficult to work out what WWE was aiming for with this segment and with Kane's involvement in particular.
The match itself then made things even more confusing, as it broke down after less than a minute of The New Day working over Kalisto. The action that followed was done well, with every team attacking each other and a number of big moves being hit, before Cesaro and Tyson Kidd were the ones standing tall following their Cesaro Swing/Dropkick combination to Kofi Kingston. Whilst that action was good, I still can't get my head around booking a ten on three handicap match and then abandoning it a minute in, so everyone can fight each other. Why not just book a twelve man tag team match? The Elimination Chamber bout should be a great spectacle and a good platform for the division, but this segment did very little to help promote the match.
Tamina Snuka with Naomi
For the short amount of time they were handed, Paige and Tamina did a stellar job with this match. Plenty of strong action, with Paige hitting a cannonball off the ring apron standing out as a particular highlight of the brief clash. Things were however let down by an ending the saw Naomi hit Paige on the outside, in plain sight of the referee, allowing Tamina to hit a Samoan drop for the win. Putting aside the fact that a number contender was just pinned, whether it was the referee, Naomi or Tamina who were at fault for the huge botch of allowing the ref to see the interference this won't go anyway to help proving to WWE's upper reaches that the diva's deserve more screen time. The Bella Twins (who were on commentary) ended things with a stare down with Naomi and Tamina.
A short but enjoyable contest, that featured Stardust focusing Neville's leg that had been injured at Payback, beginning with a nice dragon screw leg whip in the ropes. Unlike last week's match with Bad News Barrett though, Neville quickly recovered to hit a Tornado DDT and Red Arrow to pick up the victory. The storyline progression following the bout with Bo Dallas attacking Neville with a dropkick to his injured leg was a welcome addition and it's nice to Dallas getting a chance to shine in a decent storyline with Neville. Stardust however is wallowing in no man's land although a pre-match confrontation with actor Stephen Amell (Arrow, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Half Shell) and the publicity that followed, might prove a springboard for the down on his luck wrestler.
King Barrett and Ryback squared off prior to both men being involved in the Elimination Chamber for the Intercontinental Championship this Sunday. The match was beginning to look interesting as Barrett focused on Ryback's still injured ribs, sending the Big Guy into the corner of the barricade, delivering multiple kicks to the mid-section, hitting a diving elbow drop, locking on a seated surfboard stretch and hitting Wasteland, with Ryback doing a good job of selling the ribs once more. However, the below four minutes that the match was given wasn't enough to provide a satisfying finish as Ryback hit a spinebuster and a shellshock to get the win, almost out of nowhere.
The show opened with John Cena, Dolph Ziggler, Alicia Fox, Roman Reigns, Booker T, The Bella Twins, Titus O'Neil, Dean Ambrose and Natalya reciting parts of Ronald Reagan's 1982 Memorial Day speech, as well as ten bell salute inside the arena., First Look: Daniel Bryan: Just Say Yes! Yes! Yes! on the WWE Network was promoted with a sneak peak, whilst The Rock's new film San Andreas also received some promotion.
Whilst there was storyline progression a plenty, after the strength of last week's Raw, this was almost certainly a step backwards. Whist the main programs of Ambrose vs. Rollins, Cena vs. Owens and Lana vs. Rusev entertained in different ways, Ambrose's feud with The Authority dominating the episode meant that mid and lower card matches were short to make good on their early promise (See: Ryback vs. Barrett, Neville vs. Stardust, even Tamina vs. Paige) and the one match that was given time in Sheamus vs. Ziggler struggled to provide the fierce action that the feud ending match deserved.
Elimination Chamber still manages to look an exciting prospect, even with the less than stellar build to the two Elimination Chamber matches, both matches will most likely deliver, whilst Cena vs. Owens and Rollins vs. Ambrose should also be strong. However, this episode didn't do much to contribute to that excitement, and whilst entertaining in places, ultimately fell flat.
Upper card - 6/10
Mid card - 3.5/10
Lower card - 3.7/10
Overall Rating - 4.8/10