Elimination Chamber match for the vacant Intercontinental Championship
Before this match there was the revelation (actually revealed previously on the Elimination Chamber Kick-Off) that Rusev wouldn't be in the Elimination Chamber, due to a fracture foot suffered against Ryback on Thursday Night Smackdown #823. A quick recap of The Bulgarian Brute suffering the injury was shown, before a backstage segment showed Lana wishing Dolph Ziggler luck in the upcoming bout. "It's about you tonight" signalled that Lana would most likely not be involved in the bout and it was clear that WWE's plans for the bout would be majorly changed by Rusev's absence. Clearly, a little of the matches sting was taken away due to the injury, and the mystery around who would replace him fell flat as soon as Mark Henry walked out to start the bout.
The strength in this one came from the one-on-one interactions, as it was never going to be able to compete with the tag team bout in terms of big spots. Everything between Dolph Ziggler and King Barrett was very well done, especially a nearfall sequence that end in a crucifix pin for Ziggler, as was Barrett battering R-Truth in the pod and the subsequent comeback. Ziggler may have been the matches MVP, putting on strong stretches of action with Ryback and Sheamus (as well as the aforementioned Barrett) with the action with The Celtic Warrior calling back to their feud, with plenty of the fire that made the program a highlight of WWE's television. Although, the sequence that lead to Ziggler's elimination, with Sheamus no-selling a fameasser to hit a Brogue Kick was weak.
The match did have a few set-pieces (apart from blokes getting thrown in the pods), the main one seeing Sheamus trap himself in his own pod using his necklace, whilst acting as if he was trying to escape. Unfortunately this was completely missed by the commentary team, who instead decided to explain how Sheamus had "picked the lock" with the necklace. The other set-piece seemed to be Barrett sending Ziggler into Mark Henry's pod breaking the "lexane" and allowing Henry in the match. Whether this was supposed to happen or a botch, I'm really not sure, with Henry sort of standing about a lot for a while whilst action went on around him, even breaking up a pinfall for the banter, before intially succumbing a Sheamus Brogue Kick.
The closing sequence between Sheamus and Ryback was satisfying tussle, with the pair going back and forth for five minutes. The pair worked through a slick and brutal series of action on the outside, with Sheamus escaping a Shellshocked attempt before hitting White Noise onto the steel grate, which looked great, even if a later rolling senton looking a little too dangerous, with Sheamus seemingly cracking his head on the grate. The finish saw the duo go to a familar spot, with Ryback turning a Brogue Kick into a powerbomb. The two made use of the Chamber, with The Celtic Warrior first sent into the steel before being sent into the ring. After finally hitting Shellshocked, Ryback picked up the pinfall and his first Intercontinental Championship. Whilst Michael Cole signposted Ryback's win with a pre-match speech about The Big Guy telling a young fan that sometimes "The good guys win", it still felt like a big moment for Ryback, and will hopefully give the character the direction that he's been missing. Daniel Bryan putting over Ryback post match was a nice touch, as was Bryan switching his usually "Yes" motion for The Big Guy's "Feed Me More" calling card.
Singles Match for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship
Seth Rollins with Kane & J&J Security
Bucking the trend for recent WWE World Heavyweight Championship matches, there was a little in the way of backstage shenanigans and build-up for this one, which is fine and dandy as far as this reviewers concerned. Of course, the match was included in the opening build-up package (which was a bit of a mess, to be honest), but apart from that we were left with one solitary backstage segment to quench the thirst before the main event. With Roman Reigns and Dean Ambrose chatting away like old women over a fence, Triple H would interrupt to reveal that Reigns would be unable to accompany Ambrose to the ring and Ambrose would be disqualified if Reigns interfered in anyway. A new development that changed the terrain of the match, can't complain with that really. The pre-match prom featuring The Lunatic Fringe cutting a fresh promo in front of a brick wall was superb, reminiscent of the type of promos seen from the then Jon Moxley on the indy scene.
Despite the rushed feud between the two over the past two weeks, Ambrose and Rollins brought it in this match. Both men put on stellar performances that should cement Rollins' as a reliable main event, whilst building a case from Ambrose to be given more opportunities in the role. The two clearly know each other so well, as the wrestling was smooth and practically flawless, but it was the little touches that really stood out for me. Ambrose attempting a German Suplex off the top rope, which of course teased the spot Rollins' often used as a member of The Shield where he would flip out of the suplex and land on his feet, instead slipping between Ambrose's leg before delivering a double stomp with Ambrose caught in the ropes. The Lunatic Fringe raking the champion's back in the corner also got a big pop from me, because it suited the character so well (plus his facial expression was perfect)
With multiple near falls and some well-worked high spots, this was the WWE main event style, which can often end up a bit of mess, done well. Whilst the match lacked slightly in believable false finishes, the builds towards the near falls were exciting enough to almost make up for this. Ambrose missing a rope hung leg drop bulldog, followed by Rollins missing a springboard high knee, before hitting an Enziguiri that went directly into a pendulum lariat from Ambrose was a particular highlight of mine. Throw in some believable selling by both men, that got over each near fall and moment nicely and you've got a throughly entertaining twenty minutes of action. Oh yeah, and Ambrose diving off the top rope onto Kane and J&J Security was a great, character-based spot also.
In my preview, I'd called for Rollins to get the win for this one on his own and in a way, he kind of did. J&J Security got involved a little bit with their cheeky shenanigans, whilst Kane was quickly twatted by Ambrose when tried to interject his mouldy head into the bout. The finish itself, just about worked. With Rollins pushing the referee into the path of an Ambrose dive, the pair worked through a nice sequence (including a missed Phoenix splash from Rollins) before Ambrose was able to hit Dirty Deeds and a second referee counted the pin. Of course, the original referee woke up and disqualified Rollins for the push. The only reason this works, for me, is because of the two characters involved in the match and how well they played those characters throughout, including when the referee revealed the result. Obviously Ambrose decided he'd won and deserved the belt (after Reigns had helped him overcome the Authority) and dicked off with the World Heavyweight Championship. As enjoyable as this match was, I'm expecting an even better encounter between the two at Money in the Bank.
John Cena vs. Kevin Owens
If you'd read the Elimination Chamber 2015 Preview and Predictions piece then you'd know I was looking forward to this match just a little bit and boy, oh boy, did it deliver. And then some. Straight into the biggest talking point of the match, Kevin Owens pinned John Cena (Yes, John "Bloody" Cena) clean with a Pop-Up Powerbomb, seconds after Cena seemed to be launching another comeback with a huge skull-smashing lariat. I don't think it's quite settled in yet. Owens only had his debut match for WWE in December last year, and having ploughed from Sami Zayn, Finn Balor, Adrian Neville, Solomon Crowe, Alex Riley and CJ Parker on NXT, he just defeated the fifteen time World Heavyweight Champion. To put that into context, over the last five years only Brock Lesnar, Daniel Bryan, The Rock and CM Punk have gotten clean pins on Cena in his 34 PPV matches.
What made the victory even sweeter was that almost everyone was convinced that Owens would put in a good fight, but eventually fall to the Cenation Leader. The match played into this with Owens throwing a lot at Cena, but being unable to put him away. Go Home Driver, Cannonball, Pop up Powerbomb, an Attitude Adjustment, a spun-out slam version of a Package Piledriver, a top rope Fisherman's Buster all failed to put Cena away. Playing into the many cliches we've seen in John Cena matches over the past few years, Owens frustration at not putting Cena away played out very well, with the former Mr. Wrestling doing a tremendous job of showing this in the final few minutes of the bout. The moment Cena hit that huge lariat on Owens I, like many I would presume, saw Cena hitting another Attitude Adjustment and pick up the win.
The contest built and built from the moment that match started, adding layers and getting a lack lustre Corpus Christi crowd involved nicely. Owens domination early on was built mostly around strikes and attempting to ground and pound Cena, with the commentators putting him over a no nonsense brawler, but as the match developed and Owens became more frustrated with being able to finish Cena, his offence developed into big power moves, before finally attempting offence from the top rope, like a superb double jump moonsault and a Senton. On the other side of the coin, we saw multiple comeback attempts from Cena end up getting cut off by Owens, I'd have liked to see a bit more of that frustration from Cena in being unable to really get going in the match, especially after he was unable to get the win with an Attitude Adjustment or the STF. Whilst Cena's performance was strong, this mirroring could have pushed things up a level.
The big question now is "Where the hell do we go from here?". It was announced later in the show that we'd see a rematch between the duo at Money in the Bank on 14th July, and this match left plenty of room for the two to have an enjoyable rematch, that will almost certainly garner even more interest over the next two weeks on television (whilst Owens simultaneously engages in a feud with Samoa Joe on NXT). Will WWE put enough faith in Owens to have him go over Cena two times in a row? They clearly have big plans for Owens and I'd expect him to play an integral part in SummerSlam in August. Owens post-match promo proved the rocket has been strapped to his back, it's all a matter of how much fuel WWE is willing to give the NXT Champion.
Elimination Chamber match for the WWE Tag Team Championships
The Lucha Dragons
The New Day (C)
Tyson Kidd & Cesaro with Natalya
Los Matadores with El Torito
The Prime Time Players
The first ever Tag Team Elimination Chamber bout was an intriguing affair to say the least, featuring some big spots and all the thrills and spills you'd expect from the gimmick. The Lucha Dragons were the providers of the majority of the big spots, despite being eliminated just under half way through the match, with Sin Cara hitting a Senton off the top of one of the pods and Kalisto scaling to the middle of the Chamber to drop down onto the rest of the field. Kalisto was also involved in another big bump that save him get Superplex off the top of a pod by Cesaro, before Tyson Kidd hit a springboard elbow for a good near fall. The Lucha Dragons being eliminated so early was probably the biggest structural problem with the match, as they were arguably the most over babyface team in the match and could have offered the match a bit more of story to tell, with the pair starting the match.
Whilst the match was thoroughly entertaining throughout, it suffered from wrestlers breaking up pins that were on members of other teams. This could of been out of habit and an unfamiliarity with the match type, but should have been addressed before the match began or at least covered for by the commentary team. Luckily once down to just two teams, the action became much more focused, with The Prime Time Players and The New Day both putting in strong performances, with a solid "numbers game" type story, that allowed Titus O'Neil and Darren Young to shine (having already eliminated The Ascension and Tyson Kidd & Cesaro). O'Neil catching Kofi Kingston's Trouble in Paradise attempt and Big E's overhead belly to belly suplex to Young on the outside were the highlights of the closing stretch that saw all three of the New Day get the pin on O'Neil following some cleverly trickery that lead to a Trouble in Paradise from Kingston. Both The Prime Time Players and The Ascension would have to be in contention for a tag titles shot heading out of the show, maybe we'l see a number one contender's bout on Monday Night RAW.
For me, this was the only match on the show that failed to live up to my expectations going in. That isn't to say it was a bad match, because it wasn't, what was presented was absolutely fine. However, for a feud that has been so heavily focused around Neville's injured leg, even going as far as having Dallas cut a promo before the match revolving around Neville having an "injured wing", the leg didn't come into play at all. Beyond Neville hitting a handful of kicks to Dallas' leg early doors, there wasn't a hint at the previous injury either from Dallas focusing some offence on the leg, or Neville getting caught up because of it.
Without prior knowledge of the feud, this was entirely acceptable fair, with Dallas' character getting a good opportunity to shine through. Whilst Neville's offence is often spectacular, Dallas' character work has been just as strong as of late and that again came to forefront here. Little touches like screaming and gasping for air when Neville placed him in a headlock, made what could have been a dull rest spot into a chuckle worthy moment, a big thumbs up for distracting the ref by claiming Neville was holding his tights (whilst he had Neville in a cravate) before, with the ref distracted, pulling The New Sensation's hair and sending him to the mat. Hopefully we'll get some more of Dallas across WWE's product, as he could be a valuable part of the mid-card, but Neville getting the win with the Red Arrow was almost certainly the right decision for now.
Triple Threat Match for the Diva's Championship
Nikki Bella (C)
I felt bad for the ladies in this one, as whilst they tried to cram as much into their six minutes as they possibly could, something clearly went wrong in the first few minutes and they spent the rest of the match trying to recover. It would seem Paige was out of position to take an enziguiri from Nikki Bella after Naomi had ducked the same attack. Paige especially looked completely out of her depth and was clearly lost when she could be heard saying "Oh yeah, I remember" prior to a decent Rack Attack into Rear View spot. Apart from this the content was mostly strong, using the three competitors nicely, particularly in the aforementioned spot and when Naomi saved Nikki from the P.T.O with a well placed superkick. Nikki picking up the win with a Rack Attack on Naomi, following Naomi's messy but admirable reverse rana on Paige. A match with good ideas, but mostly sloppy execution.
Two recaps were aired to promote the upcoming Money in the Bank PPV on 14th June, the first off Dolph Ziggler winning a shot at the World Heavyweight Championship at Money in the Bank 2012 before cashing it on Alberto Del Rio at Monday Night RAW #1037, then Seth Rollins grabbed the only briefcase at Money in the Bank 2014, before cashing in during Brock Lesnar vs. Roman Reigns at WrestleMania 31 to win the title. Expect to see a few more of these in the next few weeks across WWE television. The Kick-Off Panel of Renee Young, Booker T, Corey Graves and Byron Saxton put over the results of the Kevin Owens vs. John Cena bout well, whilst also taking in turn to chat about upcoming matches, with some nice interchange between Graves and Saxton over the possible result of the Ambrose vs. Rollins contest. The commentary team revealed the first six participants for this years Money in the Bank ladder match, with Randy Orton, Dolph Ziggler, Neville, Sheamus, Roman Reigns and Kofi Kingston entering the match. Reason for these six being placed in the match were not given. The new WWE Network show Swerved also received some promo time, with the show scheduled to begin in June. Stone Cold Steve Austin podcast returns to the WWE Network on 1st June, with Paul Heyman the guest, in what will surely be another entertaining edition of the most watched show on the Network. Don't Try this at Home, you bloody moron. American punk-rock band The Offspring provided the theme song with Coming for You, which is apparently written about Booker T's famous outburst towards Hulk Hogan. An advert for Totino's aired, this was a real treat. How lucky are we!?
Owens vs. Cena and Rollins vs. Ambrose both offered two very different slices of sport-entertainment, that were both a lot of fun, with potential to go in a number of directions in the two weeks until Money in the Bank. The headline Elimination Chamber bout for the Intercontinental Championship might not have been the strongest outing for the gimmick, but was still an entirely watchable affair, with smatterings of good action. The mid-card was also strong with a lively tag team Elimination Chamber that delivered on it's quirky setting, whilst Dallas and Neville had a decent match. The sole undercard match showed the Diva's at least trying, even if the execution was a little missing.
A strong Network special from WWE, can they continue their good form with what is often a highlight of the year, Money in the Bank on 14th June? We shall see.
Headline bout - 6.5/10
Upper card - 7.75/10
Mid-card - 5.75/10
Under-card - 3/10
Overall - 6.5/10