Monday 24 February 2014

Elimination Chamber 2014 review

Last night WWE did what they could do all the time but only seem to do rarely. They produced an excellent pay-per-view. The show never dipped below good in terms of match quality and everyone who appeared seemed to be doing everything in their power to make themselves stand out. That’s such a rarity with WWE that it stood out. Everyone, from Big E and Jack Swagger to the six men in the titular title tussle, did everything they could to make this a great event. And it paid off. If only WWE could do this all the time.

The evening’s action kicked off with the pre-show tag match. Larry ‘The Axe’ Hennig, a big name a couple of decades ago who lives in the area, accompanied his grandson Curtis Axel, along with The Ryback, to ringside for their encounter with the Rhodes bros Goldust and Cody. The four put on an energetic show which did a good job of presenting the teams as even. It was the former tag champs who went over though, with Cody hitting Cross Rhodes for the win.

The only other noteworthy thing on the pre-show was the expert panel of Mark Henry, The Miz and Rey Mysterio being introduced. The talked up the night’s card in the standard fashion.

The show proper kicked off with Jack Swagger and Zeb Colter being introduced. As they meandered to the ring (Zeb is not a man who merely walks) they told us that the E in Big E stands for “enough”. Big Enough? Doesn’t make sense to me. Zeb revealing that his reasoning was that Big E hasn’t done enough as Intercontinental champion to improve the standard of living in North America didn’t help matters. If anything it left me more confused.

Big E got booed as he smacked his chest and roared on the apron. He managed to win the audience over during the match, thanks to a combination of a fast paced, E’s power moves, and Swagger taking some impressive bumps to help make his foe look impressive and playing the coward in the early minutes. Their greatest moment saw Big catch Swag as he attempted a Swagger bomb, then, realising he couldn't hit him with the Big Ending, dunk him onto the apron and spear him down to the mats. It got a well-earned "Holy shit!" chant.

Whoever thought Swagger and Big E would produce anything special?
The match was the first of many that felt like both men trying to prove something to the fans, and possibly management and themselves too. If so it worked. It was the best match I've ever seen the former Langston have and the best non-gimmick outing I've seen from Swaggalag. This is what I was talking about when I mentioned wrestlers being given more freedom on this show. Big E retained after countering out of the patriot lock and hitting the Big Ending.

As the champ celebrated Bad News Barrett appeared. His bad news was that Russia had outperformed the US in the Winter Olympics. I have some bad news at this point too. It was not the last we’d see of the former Nexus frontman on the show.

After some video recaps and Byron interviewing Bryan, both of which were designed to remind us the latter was not at one hundred per cent, it was time for the tag team title match. It was another great outing. The Outlaws fell about all over the place like they were still in their prime. The Usos kept up with some big falls of their own. Particularly impressive were a tope and a rough hip toss into the corner from Road Dogg.

I'd expected the match to end in a way that setup a rematch. That wasn't the case. Billy got a roll up on Jimmy after he'd super kicked Road Dogg off the apron. It was clean but I still expect the teams to clash again at WrestleMania. It feels as though WWE are ready to make a move with the Usos.

Wade Barrett returned to tell fans that Daniel Bryan would lose the Elimination Chamber match. That would make the fans turn on him and bring an end to the yes movement. The fans responded with a no chant.

Darren Young and Titus O'Neil sadly weren't able to keep the hot streak of matches going. They did what they could, D-Young looking impressive tumbling over the ring post to the floor and Titus doing everything in his power to look like an unstoppable monster, but the fans just weren't interested. I suspect that was a mixture of their issue seeming forced and the match's place on the show. Titus won a competent match with Clash of the Titus.

Bad News was out again after that. His bad news was that he had overshadowed  Hulk Hogan. That didn’t qualify as news or truth but hey, that’s the WWE creative team for you. Over on the expert panel ‘The World’s Strongest Man’ revealed he's unhappy with what's happened between the PTPs and Miz and Rey raved about the IC and tag matches respectively.

Best Shield match ever?
Both The Shield and The Wyatt Family got cheered as they were introduced for the six man tag match. The audience roared out chants for both units as they stared each other down. Ambrose threw the first punch, triggering a ruckus that his team got the better of. The match that followed was one of the best I've ever seen from either team. All six men looked good, doing everything they could to make the match exciting and memorable and stuffing it with special moments: the initial meeting of Reigns and Wyatt, an incredible clothesline from Harper, Rollins getting choke bombed through the Spanish announce table, and Reigns powering out of Sister Abigail and taking out all three Wyatt members being just some of them. It could not have been better. The crowd made it even better: the reaction they gave the match made it seem like a big deal. It's a shame it couldn't be saved until WrestleMania.

Presumably it wasn't because bigger and better things are planned for 'The Granddaddy of Them All'. Reigns took the loss, being pinned by Bray Wyatt, which could see him labelled as the weak link by Ambrose and-or Rollins. A three-way match seems the obvious thing for WWE to present at this point, and considering the way the group's been built up the natural place for it to happen is WrestleMania. Hopefully that match can match this one. It won't be easy.

Backstage Renee Young spoke to Christian. He said he'd win the WWE title. Nobody believed him.

AJ Lee extended her 252 day Divas title reign went to 253 by escaping her encounter with Cameron with the gold. They didn't get long and so smartly focused on interacting with the crowd as opposed to trying to cram in a load of moves. It was most notable for Tamina accidentally super kicking her charge and then roughing up Cameron to cause the DQ. The dissent between AJ and Tamina will probably lead to a match at WrestleMania.

Bad News Barrett's final piece of bad news was that the WWE Network will be so good that people will become obsessed with it. Kids will be expelled to lack of attendance and adults will lose jobs. It was painful, as were all his segments. As I’ve written before, this is not the character that’s going to turn Wade Barrett into a star.

After Emma, The (Not So) Great Khali, Los Matadores, El Torito and Santino were shown playing with a LEGO-like toy in the back it was time for Batista v Alberto Del Rio. The audience made it very clear that they weren't fans of 'The Animal' by giving him the loudest boos of the night. Batista did a typically poor job rising above the response while the announcers no-sold the boos.

Who could resist cheering this?
ADR came out on a crutch and said he wouldn't be able to compete. The inevitable attack didn't get the blistering heat that was expected for two reasons. One: it was obvious that it was coming. Two: people wanted to see Del Rio assault Batista. The fans chanted "Sie!" and "Bootista" throughout the match, also throwing in chants for Daniel Bryan, CM Punk, RVD, Brock Lesnar and 'Y2J'. Mid-way through the match things had become so bad that the order was given to acknowledge the hostile crowd, although it was stated to be an unusual situation as opposed to the norm. WWE were adamant the Rumble winner remain a face.

The entire match was a transparent attempt to try and make Batista appear sympathetic. That aside it wasn't a bad showing. Yes it was basic. Yes the fans were more entertaining than the wrestling. Yes Batista's victory was terribly predictable. But the bout could have been far worse. That said I think WWE really need to listen to their audiences and turn Batista heel.

The expert panel were asked for their opinions on the Elimination Chamber match. Miz selected Bryan as the winner while Mark Henry went with Sheamus and Mysterio backed Cesaro. I mention this for completion rather than for interest. Because it's not interesting.

My prediction regarding Brock Lesnar attacking someone (specifically Christian) and nabbing their Chamber pod turned out to be incorrect. It would have been nice to see 'The Pain' involved but considering the quality of the match we got I'm not too unhappy it didn’t happen.

I’d expected Cesaro and Bryan to start the match. I was half right. 'The Swiss Superman' began with Sheamus. They hammered one another with uppercuts and closed fists and tumbled around on the steel structure for good measure. It was a good opening exchange that kept the crowd interested without involving anyone too important. Bryan was the third man into the match, immediately nailing both opponents with a top rope drop kick and then laying in some stiff kicks. Seconds later he trapped Shaymo in an Indian death lock and performed a northern lights suplex on Cesaro, a nice spot. On the outside Cesaro sent Bryan sailing through the "bulletproof" glass of an empty pod. That would become a theme.

After that things quietened down until entrant number four was added. 'Captain Charisma' started off targeting D-Bry's shoulder. Moments later he took out Sheamus with an inverse DDT on the steel grating and then got power bombed into an empty pod and uppercutted back into the ring by Cesaro.

Entrant five was Cena. He AAed Christian onto Cesaro before taking a top rope hurricanrana from Bryan. Before Bryan could connect with his big kick Christian snuck in with an Unprettier (no, I won’t call it the Killswitch). A sequence of finishers, signature moves and near falls followed, including a Swiss Death uppercut, Christians tornado DDT and Shaymo's White Noise. When the klaxon sounded to signify Orton was entering everyone was down. He started off with stomps but quickly broke out a pose when he started drowning in boos. That this is all Orton can think to do when he’s receiving such strong heat is incredibly disappointing. Anyway, the posing gave everyone time to recover and corner the champ, which sent him scurrying back into his pod.

That didn't work out well for him: in one of the highlights of the match Sheamus nailed him with a brogue kick through the pod. Back in the ring Orton was subjected to Cesaro's Big Swing. Moments later he was back on his feet to play a part in the first elimination, performing a superplex on Sheamus, which was followed up by a splash from atop a pod from Christian. That would be the only elimination 'The Instant Classic' would make though: he almost immediately fell victim to Bryan's running knee.

Cena and Bryan traded punches before Cena scooped Bryan up for an AA, only to be scooped up himself, still clutching Bryan, for a Cesaro German suplex. Cena countered a gut wrench into a hurricanrana, AAed 'The Real American' onto the steel and then made him tap to the STF. Cesaro looked incredibly strong in defeat. Not only did it take three major moves to put him down but it was the company’s top star that pinned him.

WrestleMania preview?
Cena wasn't done with his trusty STF. He slapped it onto 'The Viper' less than fifteen seconds later. That application would prove less fruitful. The lights were cut before The Wyatt Family appeared in the ring. They took out Bryan and then triple teamed Cena, ending with a Sister Abigail. That allowed Orton to eliminate Cena and left him alone with Bryan.

Kane went to ringside to order the Wyatts to the back and then entered the cage, to help remove the slumped Cena, where he absorbed a flying knee from Bryan. 'The Dazzler' and 'The Apex Predator' traded the upper hand for a minute or two before Bryan escaped an RKO attempt and dropped Orton with the running knee. The referee's count was broken up by Kane. He got a roundhouse kick for his behaviour, which allowed Orton to connect with an RKO for a believable false finish. Bryan came back with a small package and another kick but then got smacked by 'The Big Red Machine' and dropped with a second, match-winning, RKO.

As Orton left with his belts Cole confirmed that Batista v Orton will headline WrestleMania for the championship. They are the two most hated men on the roster. If WWE goes through with that and doesn't involve Bryan they deserve all the negative and abusive chants they get during that match.

The booking the show seems to indicate that Daniel Bryan will clash with company COO Triple H at WrestleMania XXX. This doesn’t necessarily preclude him from the WWE championship match he deserves to be a part of. He could be booked in the match opposite ‘The Game’ with a stipulation that he’ll be placed into the evening’s main event if he wins. A big name wrestling twice at WrestleMania may seem odd but it’s not unprecedented (WrestleMania X) and it would fit with Bryan being the man who wrestles two or three times on practically every other episode of RAW.

The last thing WWE management should be doing is sticking to their guns and planning Orton v Batista in a singles match. That is not best for business.

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