On 12th February, WWE's Smackdown brand took it's final major pit-stop before WrestleMania 33 as the Elimination Chamber returned for the first time in almost two years. The titular match saw AJ Styles, The Miz, Dean Ambrose, Bray Wyatt and Baron Corbin challenging for John Cena's WWE Championship in the evenings main event, whilst Randy Orton, Dolph Ziggler, Natalya, Mickie James and Nikki Bella were also featured on the three hour show. The direction for the biggest show of the year would become a lot clearer heading out of the Phoenix, Arizona show, but would Elimination Chamber be worth the watch?
Mojo Rawley def. Curt Hawkins (6:58)
A couple of minutes into this one, I was watching GIF's of JBL falling over on Twitter. Therefore it would be difficult for me to really comment on the quality of anything after those first few exchanges. However, I had absolutely no reason to care about either of these two guys and their reasons for having this match were confusing at best and then there was very little that grabbed me or made me want to keep my attention on Rawley and Hawkins at gone midnight. This match was perhaps a symptom of booking six wrestlers in the main event and every tag team on the brand in the same match, as it meant that Rawley and Hawkins were pretty much the only two wrestlers that were left available for the Kick-Off show spot. In it's defense, the crowd sounded like they were pretty into it, but that may have been down to the excitement of a city hosting it's first WWE PPV in over four years.
Becky Lynch def. Mickie James (11:45)
The opening match found it's groove early doors and developed into a solid, enjoyable contest. The pair wrestled a nice technical contest, that had plenty of animosity behind it and played out in front of a healthily invested audience. The bulk of the contest revolved around James focusing on Lynch's arm, following catching The Lass Kicker on the way into the ring, with Becky doing a cracking job of selling the arm and helping keep that part of the narrative in the audiences mind throughout. The bout however felt a little cockeyed in it's layout, feeling like it was beginning to elongate it's second act out, before cutting itself short just when it appeared like it was about to get going. For me, the work on the arm could have been used to develop stronger near falls for James and developed to create more issues for Lynch, to the point where I was questioning just how Lynch was going to pull out a victory over the 3 time TNA Knockout's Champion.
Apollo Crews [Uhaa Nation], Kalisto def. Dolph Ziggler (7:20)
I'm still trying to think about what the aim of this match was. I'm sure that those aims weren't to get wild cheers for Dolph Ziggler battering babyfaces Apollo Crews and Kalisto with a steel chair, but then again Ziggler was the one in the two on one handicap match, so who the fuck knows. The bulk of the match boiled down to a Ziggler v Crews singles match, after The Show Off had chucked Kalisto into part of the set, before the babyfaces picked up the win when Kalisto "bravely" made his way back down to the ring for a two on one assault. The more I think about this match, the more it actually caused me mental (and perhaps physical) pain. The time would have been much better used on a decent singles match between Ziggler and either babyface, with their previous TV matches being used to develop something resembling a character for either.
American Alpha (Chad Gable, Jason Jordan) def. Rhyno [Rhino] & Heath Slater, The Usos (Jimmy Uso, Jey Uso), The Vaudevillains (Aiden English & Simon Gotch), The Ascension (Konnor, Viktor), Breezango (Fandango, Tyler Breeze) in Tag Team Turmoil to retain WWE Smackdown Tag Team Championship (21:05)
The first championship contest of the evening, all Smackdown's tag teams got a run-out in a match that seemed to designed to take up as much screen time, with as little build as possible. The bulk of the match was taken up by the on again, off again, feud between the title-holders American Alpha and The Usos with the two having a decent (albeit with a sloppy finish) six minutes collision, that demonstrated the potential the two teams have together. It's a shame that this feud has been rolling along since the brand split and has yet to be fully captilised upon and could very well find itself lost in the shuffle when the card for WrestleMania 33 is put together. The post-match attack by Jimmy & Jey, that continued to showcase the fire shown in the match, set-up a dramatic conclusion where The Ascension attempted to capitilise on the fallen champions. This was helped by some smart booking where Viktor and Konnor had picked up a pinfall in a multi-team bout on the go-home Smackdown Live. A trick was perhaps missed in not having The Ascension take the belts, as it would have provided extra material to burn through on the next seven episodes between now and WrestleMania, whilst also making American Alpha's issues with The Usos bigger and lifting The Ascension from tag team fodder for at least a couple of weeks.
The earlier portion of the bout was watchable, carried by how over Heath Slater & Rhyno remain with the audience. The duo's involvement in the first three sections of Tag Team Turmoil worked it's job of putting some heat on The Usos, but the trio of matches were nothing to get excited about. The opener with Breezango never seemed to click, floating through some awkward comedy, but The Man Beast's match winning Gore made things worthwhile. The Vaudevillains struggle on the main roster was showcased as they fell to Slater & Rhyno in just over two minutes. The idea was obviously to build momentum behind the babyfaces, that could be transferred over as heat for The Usos followed the elimination and to an extent it was successful in it's aims. As a whole, the bout suffered from the problems that the majority of types of matches do, in that in trying to tell an arch across five matches, each individual clash was underdeveloped and even the more exciting streaks of action struggled to stand out across the a mostly beige backing.
Nikki Bella v Natalya ended in a Double Countout (13:15)
Let's get the finish out of the way early...a Double Countout is pretty lame no matter how many PPV/Special Events/Network Specials/Extra Value Sports Entertainment Deals, you host a month. The two women did the best they could with it, having a fierce brawl up the entrance way, that will perhaps make a rematch stronger, but having wrestled for almost fifteen minutes, it wasn't what this programme needed. I was relatively high on this match before it broke down, as Natalya and Bella put together some decent technical exchanges, as an unusual narrative of The Fearless One looking to prove her wrestling chops to her more critically acclaimed opponent, whilst still having an underlying edge bitterness between the duo. The sequence of submissions just before the finish was a clear highlight. Even without a definitive finish, this was a match that more than held it's own with the other two Women's bouts on the card.
Randy Orton def. Luke Harper (17:13)
In the only male one on one contest on the card, Luke Harper produced his strongest singles match outing in WWE and arguably Orton's best since he stole the show at WrestleMania 31 with Seth Rollins. It wasn't a particularly complicated contest, sticking to a familiar structure, but the pair did the fundamentals well, drawing in the live crowd and taking them on a journey in the process. The two showed real ring intelligence, starting with a wild brawl around ringside, which initially grabbed the interest, before The Viper took the sting out of the contest with a series of wear down holds. This lead to the people, who had been mostly behind Orton from the outset, beginning to root more and more for Harper, with a near perfect build into The Backwoods Brawler's fiery and flashy rebound.
The contest's second part was built around Harper's momentum continuing to build, as he picked up a number of near falls on the 8 time WWE Champion, including a sweet sequence into a sitout powerbomb. The flash finish with The Apex Predator hitting an RKO out of the proverbial nowhere, gives room for a potential rematch and with the issues involving the Wyatt Family yet to be settle the chances that these two will tangle again over the next few weeks, months and years are high. A rematch under relaxed rules could tear the house down. With the two mixing technical and brawling style throughout the contest and doing the basic to a high standard, this became a real sleeper contest, easily the strongest bout on the undercard. It wasn't anything new but, just like a good Ploughman's sandwich, each ingredient was done well, creating a tasty combination.
Naomi def. Alexa Bliss to win WWE Smackdown Women's Championship (8:18)
Curiously placed between the semi-main and main event, Naomi capturing her first championship in WWE, was the shortest and weakest of Women's trio. The match wasn't given enough time to really find it's feet, but the moments that the two had to potentially shine were often awkward or mistimed. The finish in particular was more than a little confusing to follow, with Naomi's split legged moonsault and Bliss' Twisted Bliss seemingly happening about four times in various combinations before Naomi got the pin. The confusion surrounding the finish took away the feel good moment of the former Funkadactyl grabbing gold, at least for me anyway. The main positive I took away from the bout was the strength of Bliss' character, which drove the story and kept me from drifting to social media at a couple of points. Both of the women have bags of potential and getting to work with Becky Lynch, Natalya and Mickie James on a regular basis will almost certainly push them to deliver on that potential.
Bray Wyatt def. John Cena, AJ Styles, The Miz, Dean Ambrose, Baron Corbin in an Elimination Chamber Match to win the WWE Championship (34:26)
The main event of the show was one of the best booked Elimination Chamber matches that I can remember with almost every step along the way getting the very best out of the talent involved, managing to create a compelling, exciting contest, that managed to create potential friction for future events, whilst providing a satisfyingly clean finish that propelled the winner Bray Wyatt into the upper echelon. Perhaps the best piece of business done was having John Cena and AJ Styles start the match and act as the spine or glue, continuing their epic in-ring feud. I could watch these two wrestle for days and it got the crowd pumped from the very beginning. Whenever the pair came back together (also extended to having Dean Ambrose come out third, calling back to their No Mercy three way was nice touch) there was an extra jolt of energy and with the two spending over half an hour in the Chamber, meaning that if there was ever a risk of thing beginning to drag, Cena and Styles would run through a sequence and you straight back into wizardry and wonder. Cena and Styles forever.
Outside of the Cena and Styles love-in the Chamber did two other things particularly well, that being it's abundance of big highspots or moments and the timing, and also placement, of it's eliminations. The bulk of the craziness took place before the first elimination, taking advantage of the bodies filling up the structure and the new design to create chaos that perhaps hasn't been seen in this type of match before. Ambrose's whirlwind of offence after entering five minutes in, somehow managed to build into The Lunatic Fringe, Cena and Styles battling on a ledge installed half way up the chamber, in a stunning visual, before the madness peaked with an impressive take on the tower of doom from Ambrose, Styles and Wyatt. The bout settled soon after with the elimination beginning about 20 minutes in, with a nice domino effect that saw Corbin, Ambrose and Miz gone with a space of five minutes. Corbin's attack on Ambrose following the elimination, should begin an interesting Intercontinental title feud and made The Big Breakfast look like a real monstrous bastard.
Wyatt winning the WWE Championship was an emotional moment for anyone who has followed The Eater of World's tumultuous career, since he debuted as "The Tank with the Ferrari Engine" Husky Harris on the second series of NXT in 2010. After his ups and downs, call ups and set backs, it was immensely satisfying to see someone, who has clearly worked his arse off, reach a career highlight. Having Bray pin both Cena and Styles with Sister Abigail, put a real exclamation point on the win, instantly lifting Wyatt up to the next level and legitimising his title reign before it even properly began. Whilst The New Face of Fear isn't quite as hot as 2014-15 when he was ripping it up with Cena, Daniel Bryan and Roman Reigns, but a length of time with Wyatt at the helm of the blue brand has heaps of potential, especially with the initial storytelling possibilities with Randy Orton and Luke Harper over the WrestleMania period and beyond.
The main feature of the Renee Young and Daniel Bryan post-show was a chat with Alexa Bliss and Mickie James. Both gave pretty separate interviews, continuing to be an unconvincing partnership, with no particular chemistry and even contradicting outlooks. Bliss however gave another good accounting of herself as an individual character, listing a number of reasons for why she lost her Smackdown Women's Championship to Naomi, that seemed to be anything but giving praise to her opponent. For me, James' promo didn't really work, as she rambled for a long time and looked uncomfortable with the more relaxed style of the show.
- American Alpha were interviewed about retaining their Smackdown Tag Team Championships and The Usos attack.
- An interview with Naomi closed the show with a big focus on WrestleMania taking place in her hometown.
ATPW Scale Rating - 5.71/10
Show in a Sentence : A superb main event, but only Orton v Harper managed to stand out on the undercard, although only the Handicap match was distinctly poor, mainly because of the head spinning booking.
Review - James Marston
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