Tuesday, 27 February 2018

WWE Elimination Chamber 2018 Review

Elimination Chamber 2018 was the final PPV for WWE's RAW brand before WrestleMania XXXIV as the final pieces of the puzzle were slotted into place for the Show of Shows. The show was main evented by the first seven person Elimination Chamber match as John Cena, The Miz, Seth Rollins, Roman Reigns, Finn Balor, Braun Strowman and Elias battled it out to see who would challenge Brock Lesnar for the Universal Championship at WrestleMania XXIV. But how did it all go down in Las Vegas? Lets take a look! 

Commentary - Corey Graves, Michael Cole and Jonathan Coachman
Kick-Off Panel - Renee Young, Booker T, Peter Rosenberg and David Otunga 
Ring Announcer - JoJo
Interviewers - Charly Caruso and Mike Rome
Theme Music - M.O.M. by Will Roush 

WWE Universal Championship #1 Contendership // Elimination Chamber // Roman Reigns def. John Cena, The Miz, Seth Rollins, Finn Balor, Braun Strowman and Elias

Before the match - The Miz cut a promo about entering #1 and how he's used to being #1 and stuff - Highlights from RAW's gauntlet match - Seth Rollins was interviewed claiming that "All that matter is beating Brock Lesnar at WrestleMania" - Paul Heyman joined the Kick-Off and pushed the idea that the winner would face Brock Lesnar at WrestleMania and announced that Lesnar would be on RAW the next night - Braun Strowman cut a promo, mostly focused on Lesnar, calling the Universal Champion a "Beastie Boy", I guess Strowman was fighting for his right to party with Lesnar in the Chamber match - Roman Reigns was interviewed and cut a good promo mimicking Paul Heyman's "this isn't a prediction, this is a spoiler" line

Roman Reigns won the longest Elimination Chamber match in history, to book his spot against Brock Lesnar for the Universal Championship at WrestleMania, by lastly eliminating Braun Strowman following a superman punch and two spears. This was a match that for better or worse was completely dominated by Strowman as he eliminated The Miz, Elias, John Cena, Finn Balor and Seth Rollins with his running powerslam finish. Honestly, I wasn't mad for this as once Strowman had come in and started picking up eliminations it was pretty clear the direction that we were heading. The crowd were mad into Strowman however as he ploughed through everyone, so maybe it came off better within the arena where you can get swept up in Strowman's dominance and power, but as a viewer at home, I almost found myself switching off after a few eliminations. With five eliminations (surely the only reason that this match was made to feature seven men, instead of the usual six) Strowman broke the record for most eliminations, passing the previous record of three, set jointly by the holy trinity of wrestling, Goldberg (2003), The Undertaker (2008) and...Carlito (2006).

I think the main problem I had with Strowman's dominance was the once the pattern became painfully clear, there was very little done to make it feel like we might be deviating for the path. Yes, Strowman took a tonne of offence, including pretty much everyone's finishing move, but not at any point was there a convincing near fall on the Monster Among Men. He felt untouchable in the match, which isn't a surprise considering his previous booking, but in order for the chamber match to remain interesting in this period, I think we could've done with a few moments where Braun looked vulnerable to elimination. The closest we came was on a variant of The Shield powerbomb with Reigns and Cena as the based as Balor and Rollins provided the extra momentum, with all four piling on for the pin. Once you'd seen Strowman kick out of four men stacking his legs on top of his head, it became extremely difficult to buy that a single man could put him away with a simple Attitude Adjustment or Coup de Grace. 

Whilst I would've liked to have seen a little more variation on the eliminations, there's no doubt that this method resulted in the biggest pop of the match when Strowman appeared about to putting a stop to Roman Reigns' comeback as he got the Big Dog up for the move and the crowd went mad. Obviously, Reigns escaped and went on to pick up the win, but having seen five other men fall to the running powerslam, the crowd believed for a split second that if Strowman had nailed the move he'd be heading to WrestleMania. The whole finishing sequence actually was a lot of fun, bringing the energy that had made the Strowman vs. Reigns feud in 2017 one of the year's highlights as Reigns looked to dodge the North Carolinian and hit his big offence at any opportunity. The over-the-top rope suicide dive looked lovely using the Chambers raised floor and chain link effectively, before being followed up Strowman send himself through a pod with real force, setting up for the aforementioned finish. The booing wasn't any near as loud as it has been for Reigns in previous years and there was a decent sized pop for Roman winning. 

Whilst the finish was solid, it was the action at the start of the match that ended up being the highlight of the clash, as The Miz, Seth Rollins and Finn Balor kicked things off with some very good action. Rollins had nice sequences with both opponents in this early stage and whilst I would've liked to have seen Rollins positioned in a similar spot to how he was used in Monday's Gauntlet match, the crispness and pace made this a very enjoyable start. I'm not sure why Jonathan Coachman was criticising the pace on commentary because I couldn't see anything wrong with it, whilst the threesome connected well for a nice series of schoolboy near falls. Introducing John Cena into the mix, allowed for a nice moment as he chatted shit with Rollins, before another brief sequence of action between the two rivals. For me, the match began losing some of its sting once Reigns entered the match, as his dominance of all four men by the time Strowman entered the Chamber slowed the pace down and removed some of the excitement that had been prevalent when no one had the upperhand for all that long. 

For the longest Chamber match in history (just under a minute longer than the original Survivor Series 2002 contest), the match had a surprising lack of highspots involving the chamber structure. Strowman bieling The Miz off the top of a pod onto everyone bar Elias below looked brilliant and whilst Rollins hitting a frog splash off the pod onto Strowman looked a little contrived and was signposted by the Monster moving awkwardly into position following a Reigns samoan drop on the outside, the spot itself was still spectacular. However, there wasn't a whole lot of anything else here. Balor used the chain-link to deliver stomps to Cena at one point, but I couldn't work out why in kayfabe he wouldn't go for a Coup de Grace using the chain link, which would've have been the most creative spot in the match had it taken place. Overall, I think that was the main problem this match ended up having, with everyone but Reigns, Strowman and Cena ending up feeling up like bodies to tell other people's stories and severe lack of creativity when it came to the Elimination Chamber itself.

After the match - Braun Strowman continued his assault on Roman Reigns, hitting a pair of powerslams before throwing Reigns through one of the pods - John Cena appeared on RAW Talk in a sublime interview, showing real emotion as the lines between reality and wrestling were blurred heavily, with the interview concluding with Cena hinting at a heel turn - Reigns also appeared on RAW Talk, but unfortunately let himself down by not selling the effects of the Chamber and Strowman's post-match attack and instead cracking jokes.

Elimination Chamber // RAW Women's Championship // Alexa Bliss def. Sasha Banks, Mickie James, Bayley, Mandy Rose and Sonya Deville 

Before the match - Paige joined the Kick-Off panel for a dull interview that included lots of repetition as the panel kept asking similar questions - Bayley and Sasha Banks shared some interview time, before Mickie James interrupted to tell them they didn't know anything about her relationship with Alexa Bliss, in a promo that was much better than it sounds written down like that 

Alexa Bliss held on to her RAW Women's Championship, last eliminating Sasha Banks with an elevated DDT, in what was the match of the night. This was mostly down to the strength of the storytelling throughout the match, mostly around the relationship between Sasha Banks and Bayley. Beginning with Bayley fighting against Mandy Rose and Sonya Deville, both members of Absolution, for five minutes before Banks entered the match, through the pair aiding each other in eliminations as Bayley stopped Deville breaking up the Banks Statement that eliminated Rose and the two combined to send Mickie James out of the match, before culminating with Banks sending Bayley crashing off the top of a pod, this was compelling and fascinating all at the same time. Whilst many had expected Banks to turn on Bayley, because of how strongly they worked together earlier in the match, it still ended up feeling like a shock when it happened. Bayley eventually being eliminated by a Bliss roll-up after hitting a mid-rope Bayley to Belly on Banks was a great moment of "neary was" with Bayley able to get an element of revenge before having it ripped away from her. This is how the Hugger should have been booked on RAW months ago! My only criticism with the bout's narrative was how weak the two Absolution lasses ended up coming off, being eliminated first and second, despite also having the opportunity to double-team Bayley for a significant amount of time.

Even if, like the men's, the match wasn't packed with spectacular moments, there was enough to keep me happy, helped tremendously by a number of very creative moments using the structure and the size of the competitors to the bouts advantage. Mickie James' Lou Thesz press off the pod to eliminate Deville and the stunning Twist Bliss to a standing Banks stand out as the most memorable highspots, but the best use of the chamber was actually much more simple and character based. This occurred after Bayley had pinned James and Bliss realised that it was down to her and the two supposed best friends, whilst stilling locked inside her pod. Bayley and Banks hunting down Bliss as the champ at first tried to lock herself in her pod and attempted to climb the structure to avoid the pair was lovely stuff, with Bliss' character performance always having been the strongest part of her game. Any risk that the champ could've come across as the babyface, when she eventually pulled out the victory was cut down when Bliss cut a promo on the crowd after the match, telling them they'd never live out any of their dreams in a wonderfully hyperbolic moment. 

The finish of the match worked in a number of twist and turns, as Banks and Bliss worked a well-structured sequence of action, that could've done with having a little more pace behind it. In fact, on that note, Banks looked a step or two of pace throughout most of the match, whether it was the surroundings of the chamber throwing her off or just an off day, I'm not sure, but had she been on point throughout the match would've been taken up a notch or two. The aforementioned Twisted Bliss off the pod spot was followed by Banks rolling through into the Banks Statement, a spot that would've been superb had Banks rolled straight into the submission hold off the dive (similar to someone rolling through a diving crossbody into a pin) but Bliss was left weirdly attempting a pin on the outside, before Banks eventually appeared to no-sell a move that had hit and flip into the submission. The crowd was still up for it, however, given Banks a loud reaction when she was able to manoeuvre Bliss into the ring, before Bliss escaped, was able to smash Banks' face off a pod, before hitting an elevated DDT for the win. With a little more finesse and better timing this would've been a brilliant conclusion to the match, but even then it still ended up being an exciting ending between the two most over women in the contest.

Ronda Rousey signed her RAW contract

Before the segment - Ronda Rousey was shown entering the building - RAW General Manager Kurt Angle was shown entering Rousey's dressing room

Ronda Rousey was back in WWE, this time to sign her RAW contract in a segment that concluded with Triple H going through a table and RAW Commissioner Stephanie McMahon slapping the former UFC Women's Bantamweight Champion. Man, this was a weird segment. I'm not even quite sure where to begin, because it was such a Jekyl and Hyde type affair. Basically, anything before Kurt Angle began stirring the pot with Rousey, telling her that McMahon had called her a bitch in private, was trash and everything afterwards was good theatre-style WWE. Rousey's promo felt like she'd never had a mic in her hand before and even felt like the crowd could turn on her if she was allowed to speak for much longer, but Angel's mischievous meddling was a joy to watch, especially when you knew it was leading to Rousey kicking someone's arse. Rousey putting Trips for a table was an intriguing piece of female on male violence, which has been bleeding into WWE over the last year, whilst McMahon's slap looked rough, with Rousey's selling of the moment as McMahon escaped doing a good job of making a scrap between the pair seem more desirable than it did before the segment. Overall, the segment did its job of setting up the issue between all four before an inevitable and heavily rumoured WrestleMania match, but also could have done with being, at least, five minutes shorter and with a whole lot less of Rousey awkwardly talking into the mic. 

After the segment - Stephanie McMahon appeared on RAW Talk, pushing that there would be consequences on the following night's RAW and that she expected an apology from Kurt Angle

Asuka def. Nia Jax // Pinfall

Asuka's WWE undefeated streak grew to 13-0 as Nia Jax joined Alicia Fox, Emma and Dana Brooke on the list of women who the Empress of Tomorrow has beaten twice since moving to the main roster. Under regular circumstances, this was a good match, using the size of the competitors well and featuring a couple of fun highspots. However, with the matches stipulation that if Jax won she'd earn herself a Women's title shot at WrestleMania, the match did a poor job of making me believe Jax was going to win, with the Irresistible Force having a severe lack of convincing near falls, whilst Asuka's various submission didn't lift the drama as a tapout resulted in nothing actually changing. Jax saved the majority of her intensity for after the clash, which meant we didn't really see the most out of Asuka. Whilst the match did feature some cool action like Jax attempting a Bonsai Drop and Asuka's funky victory roll that sealed the win, I felt like the match lacked the physicality it needed to fully satisfy and therefore the match never fully engaged the audience.

After the match - Nia Jax attacked Asuka, hitting a pair of samoan drops before charging Asuka through the barricade, in an attack way too similar to what Braun Strowman would do to Roman Reigns later in the night.

Matt Hardy def. Bray Wyatt // Pinfall

Before the match - Matt Hardy cut a mad promo about something.

Matt Hardy seemingly bought his never-ending feud with Bray Wyatt to a close, pinning the Eater of World's clean with a Twist of Fate in a flat match. After the opening, which saw Wyatt appear and Hardy disappear at the same time, the bout failed to entertain, losing the crowd early on, relying on a number of repetitive tropes and being fought at a super slow pace. Considering the match went under ten minutes, it would be weird to suggest it should have been shorter, but it should've been shorter. A more impactful five minute bout, could have done a much better job at keeping the crowd involved than this drawn out match that was mostly Hardy attempting to hit the Twist of Fate a bunch of times. It wasn't a terrible match by any stretch of the imagination, but considering this feud has been rumbling since the end of November and still doesn't feel like its developed, it needed something different here than a regular wrestling match. WWE continues to show a misunderstanding of the Broken/Woken gimmick, that began with their take on the Final Deletion with the Wyatt Family and The New Day in July 2016. It's going to need a massive effort to rescue this at this point.

RAW Tag Team Championship // Cesaro & Sheamus (C) def. Apollo & Titus O'Neil // Pinfall

Before the match - We found out that Titus O'Neil took a load of kids to see Black Panther, because he's a well nice guy.

Apollo & Titus O'Neil of Titus Worldwide unsuccessfully challenged Cesaro & Sheamus for the RAW Tag Team title with Cesaro picking up the pin on Apollo following a White Noise and Springboard elbow drop combination. On paper, this match had potential, but was poorly put together in practice, as Apollo spent too long as the face in peril, killing the crowd, before a weak O'Neil hot tag did even more damage. For me, we needed to see more of Apollo's athleticism early on, but there was very little in the way of face shine and with Titus Worldwide only being thrown into the title picture on Monday, the audience had no reason to care about this match or anyone involved. A near fall off the Clash of Titus was solid, but O'Neil struggling to work with what should have been a straightforward transition hurt what was the best moment of the match. O'Neil works as Apollo's manager, but their act as a tag team is far from polished with Titus clearly the weaker of the pair in almost all areas. Where Cesaro & Sheamus slot into WrestleMania I'm not entirely sure right now, but the possibilities of a multi-team mosh seems high once again.

Luke Gallows & Karl Anderson def. Bo Dallas & Curtis Axel // Pinfall

The other tag bout on the show saw Luke Gallows & Karl Anderson get back to winning ways with a convincing victory over Bo Dallas & Curtis Axel in a sound opening match. Certainly nothing special happened here, but the basics of tag team wrestling were all on display, lifted by a big spot that saw Dallas push Anderson off the top rope to the floor following a blind tag. A couple of neat sequences thrown into this as well, like Axel attempting to cut off an Anderson hot tag, only to get clattered with a Sick Kick and a decent distraction nearfall for The Miztourage with Axel coming close with big jumping knee strike. The crowd weren't massively into it, because they had no reason to be, but the four guys managed to come out, put on a watchable match and not outstay their welcome. 

After the match - An interview with Scott Dawson & Dash Wilder, The Revival, was cut off before the pair had a chance to say anything interesting.

Also on the show 

- Kurt Angle was interviewed by the Kick-Off panel about a variety of topics and somehow managed to say nothing at all.

ATPW Scale Rating // 5.31 out of 10

Written by James Marston // @IAmNotAlanDale 

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