Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Elimination Chamber 2014 preview

Yes, this year’s Elimination Chamber poster does depict Stephanie McMahon pulling a puppet master pose and hovering over the Elimination Chamber structure. Don’t read too much into it. It could play into the last few months of storylines that have shown The Authority playing favourites and holding people down. But it won’t. It’s just the latest in a long line of WWE posters that bare little connection to the card they’re promoting.

While I don’t think EC will achieve the storyline potential that its poster (admittedly only very slightly) hints at I do think it will be a worthwhile show. It’s the last event the company will hold before the launch of the WWE Network so they’ll be feeling the pressure to make it a good one to encourage more subscriptions. It’s also the last pay-per-view1 the company will produce before WrestleMania XXX. I’m sure the following evening’s RAW is going to be more eventful than the Chamber event but we can expect at least some of the big things occurring on Monday night to be set up on Sunday.

The card itself is a mixture of good and bad. The Elimination Chamber and six man tag matches will both be highlights while I think it’s safe to assume Big E’s first title defence of 2014 and the bout between former teammates Darren Young and Titus O’Neil will be forgettable. Cards like this are what happens when companies don’t concentrate enough on creating stars that people can’t care about.

The evening will kick off with former tag team champions Cody Rhodes and Goldust facing RybAxel on the pre-show. It should be fun. The Rhodes bros are one of WWE’s most popular acts and never seem to have a bad match. While Curtis Axel and The Ryback are no strangers to less than great matches they are at least proficient. More promisingly ‘The Big Guy’ has recently been hilarious with his high school jock-inspired tweets, YouTube antics, and keyboard-mashing entrance taunts. His gimmick is basically that he’s trolling internet wrestling fans and it’s great. But as great as it is I don’t think it will help him and his partner win. Cody and Goldy are the men I expect to go over.

Perhaps the most interesting thing is whether or not the brothers will split to set up a singles match between them at WrestleMania. That’s a match both men have wanted to have for years and now would be the logical time to do it, what with them being affiliated on-screen and all. I’ve said before that I hope they don’t go their separate ways. I’d be much more interested in seeing them wrestle together as a team at WrestleMania than against each other. A three-way tag title match involving the Rhodes boys, the Usos and the New Age Outlaws would be nice. I’m going to hope for that.

Titus O’Neil v Darren Young does nothing for me. I’m only interested in the two as a team. That they’ve been split strikes me as a massive waste. The roster’s clogged up with singles guys doing nothing. It’s going to be very hard for either of them to connect with audiences in a meaningful way. As the aggressor in the split and the bigger of the two I think ‘The Big Deal’ has been selected as the one to get moved up the card, so I’ll go with him to win.

I am similarly disinterested in Big E v Jack Swagger. Neither man excites me with either their wrestling style or character. In fact the most interesting thing that’s happened to either lately is the loss of a surname. It feels safe to assume that the former Langston will retain his IC gold. A lengthy title reign with the restored number two title is probably something that those in charge think will get him over. In and of itself it won’t. But if he’s given some worthwhile feuds and defences that mean something then Big E might be able to move up in people’s estimations and restore some cred to the strap.

The New Age Outlaws’ title defence against the Jimmy and Jey Uso is neither good nor bad. It merely is. The Usos are a team that WWE have kept in a position of minor prominence for a year or two now. They’ve never had the big push but they’ve been kept chugging along with outings against everyone form the Rhodes brothers to The Shield. Whenever something’s come up for a less important tag team to do it’s them that have been given it. I remain convinced they’ll never be a huge act but WWE are at least taking the right approach with them, taking things slow and letting the crowd accept them in their own time. They should do that with more of their wrestlers.

On the other hand the Outlaws are a nostalgia act. They’re not going to have the titles for long. They’re not going to stay on our screens for long either. They’re two guys getting one last run of relevance. With that in mind it’s possible their sixth championship reign will end with this match. I’m leaning towards it lasting six more weeks though. As I mentioned above, a triple threat pitting Road Dogg and Billy Gun and Cody and Goldy and Jey and Jimmy would be a nice ‘Mania bout. It would be ideal for the pre-show.

Speaking of teams Elimination Chamber will play host to a six man tag match WWE have masterfully held off: The Shield versus The Wyatt Family. Both units have been kept strong by winning more six man tag matches than they’ve lost, by being used consistently instead of having their pushes halted for backstage faux pas or decreases in interest, and by interacting with names further up the card. It’s been a great example of building new acts, welcome proof that WWE can still succeed at that task if they decide they want to.

Because of how well the teams have been built up and because they’re both trios it’s always been a natural match for WWE to book. By not rushing into it and allowing the teams to establish themselves separately the match means more than it would otherwise. They’ve also sensibly held off until one of the units is near the end of its life. ‘The Hounds of Justice’ will either face one another at WrestleMania or split and face off shortly afterwards. A match with the Wyatts is the last, obvious, box for them to tick before they take off the riot gear and do their own things.

I find it hard to imagine The Shield winning this match. They’ve been shown bickering amongst themselves and Roman Reigns is increasingly looking like he’s ready to step away from the gang and be his own man. Meanwhile the Wyatts are a united force.

A Wyatt win makes sense. It keeps the act that’s staying together looking stronger and gives Bray Wyatt another win over an over act. That’s important if he’s to be taken seriously as a foe for John Cena, which seems to be what’s planned for him. A Shield loss makes just as much sense. It creates another reason for the three members to have issues with one another.

I’ll be interested to see how this match is laid out. Reigns is set up for a face turn and Rollins and Ambrose are both smaller than all three members of The Wyatt Family so The Shield playing face makes sense. More flattering booking for Reigns wouldn’t be surprising. Neither would Ambrose attempting to upstage his teammates. It seems pretty clear he’s going to be the central antagonist of the three when they split, while Rollins could go either way2.  

Batista v Alberto Del Rio is, more than anything else, a necessary evil. As the Royal Rumble winner and the man who will wrestle for the WWE championship at WrestleMania Batista needs to have a presence on this show. A promo wasn’t going to cut it. He’s been talking for weeks. This show needed to have him wrestle.

If kept short this match could be fine. That would allow ‘The Animal’ to run through a sequence of power moves before the crowd has a chance to become bored and really get into heckling him. As it is they’ll do that anyway, but the longer he’s out there the worse it’ll get. A short length would also help with the quality. Batista has only ever worked satisfying lengthy matches with men of a very high level. As much as I like ADR he’s not of that level, partially because his character has not been permitted to progress that far. The WWE faithful simply aren’t conditioned to expect twenty minute PPV matches from ‘The Essence of Excellence’.

On top of that Batista has been getting blown up performing entranceway taunts. That’s another reason I think this match would benefit from a slender run time.

The result seems the most predictable thing on the card. There’s just no logic in Batista losing: he’s going to wrestle for the company’s top prize at their biggest show while ADR isn’t even guaranteed a match on the show. As flat as his return’s been WWE have invested a lot of money in it and made plans centring on the former Evolution man. They’re not going to have him lose on this show.

We’ll find out who Batista will be facing in the Elimination Chamber match. Randy Orton, John Cena, Sheamus, Christian, ‘Don’t Call Him Antonio’ Cesaro and Daniel Bryan will compete for the WWE championship. That’s the announced match at least. With this show being held in Brock Lesnar’s billed from town of Minneapolis I’m expecting him to be added to the match. Christian and Cesaro could be attacked early in the show or on their way to the ring and have their spot taken by ‘The Pain’. It’s something WWE’s done before and it would add star power to an already strong Chamber line-up. ‘The Man of the Peeps’ would be my preferred choice to receive that beating: I don’t need to see him in the Chamber while I think Cesaro could benefit from the spot.

There are a lot of things that could happen in this match. Cena is expected to become linked to the Wyatts, so they could interfere. Bryan has had a half-hearted, short-lived programme with Kane over the last couple of weeks, so he could interfere. Triple H could interfere to cost D-Bry the match, setting up a match between them for WrestleMania. There’s even a slender chance Undertaker could appear in order to kick off his ‘Mania feud, something that I think will be likelier if Lesnar’s involved than not.

If you’ve never seen an Elimination Chamber match before, or if you have a very short memory, you may be wondering how this interference could happen. Well, in 2010 Shawn Michaels popped into the Chamber by removing hiding under the ring and removing one of the metal grates. And, y’know, the cage door opens when people are eliminated, someone could easily run in then. For ‘The Phenom’ I’d particularly enjoy the lights out-lights back on trick. I won’t expect it though.

There are two men I think have a real chance of leaving this match with the WWE championship. The first is Randy Orton. The second is Daniel Bryan. The original plan for WrestleMania seems to have been ‘The Viper’ defending the title against Batista. Due to Batista not being as popular as WWE believed and the ascension of Daniel Bryan I think there’s a good chance that plan has been altered to either a triple threat involving Bryan or a singles match between Bryan and Batista.

The three-way seems likeliest and that could be set up with either Bryan or Orton leaving as champion. Bryan could request a chance to be entered into that match and be given the chance to do so in a match (pitting him against Batista would be a nice idea, but not something I’d expect from the overly protective WWE). If Orty lost the title he could add himself to the WM30 main event via a rematch clause (although the way WWE books him I wouldn’t be surprised if he had to earn his way in too, even though he’s a conniving, cowardly heel). Either Bryan or Orton could go into that match as champion but I’d like to think WWE would do the sensible thing and have ‘The Apex Predator’ enter as champion. That would allow Bryan that feel good win on the company’s largest stage, getting the best crowd reaction of the entire show.

I can see WWE taking the stupider three-way route. That would see Bryan winning the championship at EC14 and losing it to Batista at WrestleMania. The justification for this would be that it gets the Bryan title win everyone wants but would also allow the original plan of a Batista title win to go ahead. It would, of course, be a bad move, because it would see the promotion’s hottest star losing the championship everyone wants him to have at the biggest show of the year. That result would get booed out of the building, even if it was designed to set up Bryan regaining the gold a month later in his home state.

Predicting an Orton win also covers me in case none of the above is applicable and WWE are arrogantly sticking to their guns and going ahead with a Batista versus Orton singles match. It would be a completely stupid decision to do that match but don’t put it passed them. Whatever the plan for the future I think the Chamber will come down to Bryan and Orton.

There are alternatives of course. As I’ve said before John Cena can never be ruled out in title matches. With so much uncertainty going on around who’s over and who’s not it would be easy for WWE to fall back on their tried and tested top guy. Yes he’d get booed at WrestleMania, but they’re used to that and Cena copes with it better than anyone else. He’d be a safe bet and could wrestle Batista, Orton, Bryan or any combination of the three at ‘Mania in a satisfactory match.

There’s also the potential for Lesnar to win (if he ends up entering that is). Lesnar v Batista would be a fresh match and one I imagine WWE have always wanted to promote. If they were prepared to have Batista lose his guaranteed title match (which they would be) then Lesnar v Orton and Lesnar v Bryan would also be fresh. The latter would also have benefit from having a very interesting dynamic and probably being the best thing on the show.

While Elimination Chamber doesn’t have an announced card that will go down as one of the greatest of all time it does at least promise to be interesting. The uncertainty around the main event is what will make or break this show. I’m as confident as I can be that WWE will do the right thing for the success of their bigger show. And that’s having Bryan lose to set him up for a win later.

Predictions summary:
Randy Orton to retain the WWE championship
The Wyatt Family to defeat The Shield
Batista to defeat Alberto Del Rio
The New Age Outlaws to defeat the Usos
Cody Rhodes and Goldust to defeat RybAxel
Titus O’Neil to defeat Darren Young
Big E to defeat Jack Swagger


1 What are we going to call them when they’re on the Network? Supershows? Somehow that doesn’t feel very WWE.

2 And I don’t mean that in a fanfic way, obvs.

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