The penultimate RAW before Elimination Chamber featured a number of big matches as WWE loaded the show for the second week in a row. The main event saw Seth Rollins, Matt Hardy, Bray Wyatt, Finn Balor and Apollo Crews fight it out for the final spot in 22nd February's Elimination Chamber bout, whilst we got a rematch of the WrestleMania XXVII main event with John Cena facing Intercontinetal Champion The Miz in a match where the loser would have to enter the Elimination Chamber first and a collision between best friend as Sasha Banks met Bayley one-on-one. But how did it all go down? Lets take a look!
Elimination Chamber Qualifying Match // Seth Rollins and Finn Balor def. Matt Hardy and Bray Wyatt and Apollo Crews // Double Pinfall
So Seth Rollins and Finn Balor both find themselves having qualified for what is going to be the first ever seven person Elimination Chamber match, after a rubbish ending to what had been a very good multi-man bout up to that point. So, Balor and Rollins ended up both pinning Bray Wyatt after a tower of doom spot that also involved Apollo Crews. Firstly, when have you ever, ever seen anyone take the pin off a tower of doom? Especially when they weren't even the top part of the tower? I can't remember such a thing ever happening, but admittedly I haven't seen all the wrestling matches in the history of wrestling matches. Even when you factor that two people were pinning Wyatt and therefore it would've been more difficult to kick out, how dumb does that make Rollins and Balor look? You're lying next to another competitor as you're getting the pin, but somehow believe it was you who won the match? Come on, lads. With a little extra thought I'm sure a better finish could have been configured, such as Balor and Rollins both hitting their finishers on different chaps and not realising the other was getting a pin at the same time.
The finish was a shame, because as I said the rest of the match had featured some brilliant action. Perhaps, that's why the finish felt so weak and anti-climatic, as so much thought had been put into a number of intricate sequences, that the sheer lack of thought in the conclusion stood out like a sore thumb. The match began hot with lots of action, as we joined the contest in progress after the break, with Wyatt nailing Matt Hardy with a DDT onto the apron, before Crews hit a moonsault off the apron. From there it felt like the match didn't let up, with a real sense of urgency (even during replays you had Balor hitting shotgun dropkicks on the outside), with the bout peaking during a slick sequence that saw Hardy hit a Twist of Fate on Wyatt, with Balor breaking up the pin with a Coup de Grace, only for Rollins to catch Balor with the curb stomp for a superb near fall as Crews recovered to make the save. Whilst that was exciting, I think a personal highlight was the sequence between Rollins and Crews that followed, as it seemed like WWE was finally beginning to put some faith in Apollo as he got a good deal of time to show what he could do one on one with a top guy. He came into the bout looking like the odd one out, but hopefully the strength of his in-ring work here will be enough for a continued push at some point in 2018.
Of course, Rollins hadn't been originally announced as part of the match, but managed to get himself inserted into the main event after a segment with RAW General Manager Kurt Angle earlier in the show. The segment made headlines for Angle announcing that Ronda Rousey would sign her RAW contract as Elimination Chamber, but it was Rollins' performance that stole the segment for me. It feels like it's been a while since we've seen a real fiery Rollins on the microphone, a while since we've seen Rollins speak with a purpose and desperation, a style that brings out the most in The Kingslayer. Yes, his partnership with Jason Jordan (who was announced as being injured and missing WrestleMania) was entertaining at points and before that the feud the stuff with Dean Ambrose and feud with Cesaro & Sheamus has provided some great matches and moments, but this felt much more like the Rollins that invaded NXT Takeover in January 2017. "I don't want to be a part of RAW anymore...I want to BE RAW!" set the tone as Rollins asked to placed in the qualifying match as he wanted to challenge Brock Lesnar for the Universal Championship at WrestleMania. Angle through the decision open to the public, like a modern day Davey Cameron, with the audience obviously loudly showing their approval for Rollins getting his opportunity.
Loser enters Men's Elimination Chamber first // John Cena def. The Miz // Pinfall
For the first time in almost five and a half years, John Cena and The Miz went head to head on our TV screen, with Big Match John picking up the win with a middle rope Attitude Adjustment after a very good opening match, to make Miz the first entrant into the Elimination Chamber on 22nd February. For me, this may have been the best match out of the fourteen the two have had on TV and PPV together as they worked strong WWE main event style contest, that wouldn't have looked out of place on a PPV. The crowd was hot for both men and the two rewarded that with some hard work as they crafted a couple of rather lovely submission sequences, that perhaps one wouldn't expect for these two performers. The two near falls with Cena kicking out of a Skull Crushing Finale, before Miz escaped after an Attitude Adjustment, felt even sweeter because of the stature of the contest and by the end of the match it had become something much more than I think many people were expecting. After being caught going for a middle rope Skull Crushing Finale, Miz seemed to be crushed following the loss and sold that loss wonderfully on the ramp with some delightful facial expression with some great direction on the camera positioning helping to sell the moment as well.
The match came about from the show's first segment with The Miz interrupting Cena's opening monologue. Both bought energy to the segment that was aided by the San Jose crowd being well up for joining in, with a mixed reaction for both men, that gave the segment a real off-kilter type feel. It seems like WWE is putting some real effort into building the importance of the Elimination Chamber and showing how much it means to those who are taking part, with Cena spending a good deal of time putting over his desire to get a shot at the Universal Championship, even going as far as to say that he might not compete at the event if he doesn't win. There was also a thinly veiled reference to The Undertaker, which knowing Cena was slotted into the promo to add fuel to the rumour fire that the two are set to finally square off at the Grandest Stage of Them All this year. Miz brought the passion that's made him one of the most popular acts in the company to his promo, claiming he stacked up better than Cena against Brock Lesnar, before Bo Dallas and Curtis Axel attacked Cena and Kurt Angle made a match between the pair official.
Bayley def. Sasha Banks // Pinfall
This week's biggest women's segment featured Sasha Banks still looking for her first singles win since the end of October as she fell to Bayley after a mid-rope Bayley to Belly at the conclusion to a stellar contest. The first two thirds of the bout were particularly strong, beginning with some of the best back and forth chain wrestling that I've seen in WWE's women's division in quite some time, pushing the idea that the pair were best friends and this was a mere athletic exercise. Gone was the sloppy Bayley we saw against Asuka last week and in her place was the motivated Bayley of old, trading holds at pace with the Legit Boss. The bouts second act developed on this as Banks began to heel up just a little bit, showing hints of her criticically acclaimed NXT badass bitch character as she targeted Bayley's injured shoulder by wringing it across the top rope. There was great moment with Bayley escaping Banks' signature double knees in the corner, only to catch Banks on the injured shoulder and allow her friend to take control once again. Unfortunately, this was undone a little bit later in the match, when Bayley hit a stunner through the ropes using the injured shoulder, which she then didn't sell. As the tension built after the match, Nia Jax would wipe out both women, hitting a pair of Samoan drops, before revealing to Charly Caruso that this was meant as a message for Asuka (who would receive a "by the numbers" hype package later in the show)
Roman Reigns def. Sheamus // Pinfall
After I'd been dissapointed with Roman Reigns' reigniting his feud with Bray Wyatt for a singles match last week, the Big Dog revisiting his 2015/16 feud with Sheamus was a much more fruitful affair with the two putting on a wild contest that concluded with Reigns getting the pin with a spear that caught the RAW Tag Team Champion coming off the top rope. After a hectic opening, that included a rolling fireman's carry slam on the floor from Shamo, the match did lose its way slightly after the Celtic Warrior was in control, with the crowd drifting and beginning to chant "Rusev Day" ("We're so random" someone probably said to their mate), with Reigns locked in a weardown, but the pair soon recovered for a series of top-drawer near falls and momentum shifting sequences that had the crowd eating out of the palm of their hands. The two best examples of these were Reigns hitting a Superman Punch with perfect timing as Sheamus attempted a Brogue Kick and the Irishmen getting two convincing near falls one of another, first off a roll-up from a Cesaro distraction and then with a nasty knee strikes straight after. The finish continued the theme with some exciting back and forth, with Reigns fighting off Cesaro, Sheamus sent into the ringpost, before blocking a Drive-by with a clothesline that sent Reigns onto the apron, before Reigns hit a massive spear after Shamo attempted a dive off the top rope.
Braun Strowman hit Elias with a double bass
HOLY SHIT, BRAUN STROWMAN HIT ELIAS WITH A FUCKING DOUBLE BASS! A DOUBLE BASS! A. DOUBLE. BASS. This segment was fantastic and probably the best thing on a show packed with good TV matches. Both men were on real form with Elias introducing us to the Elimination Chamber Blues song, ripping on his opponents on 22nd February with a number of entertaining lines, whilst receiving a hell of a reaction from San Jose, moments after calling the city a shithole. The reveal that Strowman was sitting on the ramp, complete with introduction from JoJo, was utterly brilliant and then got even better when the Monster Amongst Men pulled out his instrument and then somehow Braun can actually sing. The whole segment was a series of "What the fuck is going on?" moments in the absolute best way, topped off by Strowman hitting Elias with a double bass. The tease that this would happen earlier on as Strowman left the instrument outside of the ring as he beat down the Drifter added to moment when it finally happened and got a monster reaction from San Jose. Both these men have developed into stars over the last twelve months and this may have been the best thing either has done to date.
Mandy Rose & Sonya Deville def. Mickie James & Alexa Bliss // Pinfall
A short and solid match saw Absolution's Mandy Rose & Sonya Deville get back to winning ways against Mickie James and RAW Women's Champion Alexa Bliss with a little help from their manager, Paige. We got to see some brief tandem offence from James & Bliss, after the RAW Women's Champion had attempted to reconcile the pair's differences in a backstage segment (Side note: Please stop using the phrase "biscuit butt"). However, the majority of the match was Rose & Deville working over James, as any potential hot tag from Bliss was cut off as the finish. It meant the match ended up feeling a little incomplete, but was actually done rather well, with Paige distracting Bliss on the apron just as James was readying for the tag, before Deville completed the job by pulling Alexa off the apron. Rose's Bed of Roses finish looks like it could still do some work or perhaps it's just James that can't take the move, but apart from that there was nothing to moan about here. Bliss would save James from another Absolution attack post-match, so it looks their storyline is going to continue until at least Elimination Chamber, therefore it will be interesting to see if WWE is deciding to turn Bliss babyface heading into WrestleMania.
Scott Dawson & Dash Wilder def. Luke Gallows & Karl Anderson // Pinfall
Whilst the booking of the feud has been counter-productive, The Revival's victory over Luke Gallows & Karl Anderson was a fun tag encounter that appeared to cap of the rivalry between the two groups. After being called "nerds" in a pre-match promo, Scott Dawson & Dash Wilder kicked off the match by attacking Gallows & Anderson on the ramp, giving the match some nice energy from before the bell even rang. This was followed up some lovely tag work from Dawson & Wilder as they target Gallows' knee, pulling down his knee pad and rolling up his tights and working a number of holds on the area. Anderson's hot tag has become a strong part of the Balor Club's babyface act and this week saw probably the best example of that, as after Gallows had limped to the corner, Anderson came flying out the gate with a series of strikes, including a tasty looking running knee in the corner. Eventually, Anderson was left fighting alone against The Revival in an energetic sequence which saw him eventually succumb to the numbers gave as he walked straight into a Shatter Machine to take the loss. I'm interested to see what The Revival do going forward, as with the RAW Tag Team belts currently around the waist of fellow heels Cesaro & Sheamus, the tag team division on the red brand feels like it's in a state of flux right now.
Also this week
- Ivory was announced as being apart of 2018 Hall of Fame class, seemingly because of her relationship with GLOW.
- The spotlight moment was AJ Styles winning the WWE Championship from Dean Ambrose at Backlash 2016.
- Alexa Bliss and Titus O'Neil discussed the Freedom Rides as part of Black History Month.
ATPW Scale Rating // 6.30 out of 10
Written by James Marston // @IAmNotAlanDale