Wednesday 15 February 2012

Elimination Chamber preview

You have to wonder about WWE’s booking sometimes. The night after last month’s Royal Rumble pay-per-view the Undertaker made his first appearance in nine months. On Monday’s RAW Shawn Michaels made his first appearance since last summer. In the next several weeks The Rock is due to return to RAW in order to begin the final push towards WrestleMania XXVIII, hyping his feud with John Cena.

That’s three huge names that will spike ratings all returning (one unadvertised) on free television. Would it have been too much to ask to save one of them for Sunday’s Elimination Chamber pay-per-view? If any of the three were advertised to appear it would help increase interest in the show. The Rock could confront John Cena. ‘HBK’ and ‘The Game’ could have had exactly the same exchange they had on RAW at Elimination Chamber.  Things could have been rejigged so that Undertaker made an advertised appearance at the PPV. WWE had options, all of which would have encouraged people to buy this Sunday’s show.
Elimination Chamber feels like a wasted opportunity. Because it is. At this time of year WWE should be taking advantage of the increased interest fans have in their product by putting things people want to see on pay-per-view. That’s how the system is supposed to work! Instead they’re giving away big name returns on free TV.

Rant done with I can now say that I am looking forward to this year’s Elimination Chamber more than any from previous years. I’m a fan of the Chamber match concept but tend to dislike its placing in the annual supershow line-up. Basically I always feel that the February event shouldn’t be a gimmicked one as that would allow WWE more creative freedom to promote the matches and angles they need to, rather than having to work around the cage matches. I’m also of the opinion that it dilutes the importance of the Royal Rumble. They’ve never done a bad job with the show, but it would be nice if it were left until later in the year when it could be used to greater effect and not be a potential burden on WrestleMania plans.
What I’m most excited about with this year’s show are the men entering the Chambers matches. For the first time in years the Chamber bouts are not laden with veterans. The inclusion of big names tends to mean that they become the focus of the booking and any young stars involved are there solely to fill spaces and make the veterans look good. This year there are far fewer veterans involved in the Chamber bouts, and the ones that are there fit in with the younger line-ups well, for the most part.

Big Show’s inclusion would be more irritating in different circumstances. As it is he has been in the main event picture for months so it makes sense for him to be wrestling for the World Heavyweight title here. The only true dead weight is the Great Khali, replacing an injured Mark Henry. Again, as he’s a last minute replacement the blow is softened. I imagine both giants will be booked carefully and not be involved in the match for too long (Khali especially).
Of the two I’m far more looking forward to the RAW Chamber more. CM Punk defending against surprise inclusion Kofi Kingston, Miz, R-Truth, Dolph Ziggler, and expected WrestleMania opponent Chris Jericho has the potential to be a Match of the Year candidate. There’s nobody in there who’s a poor worker, and nobody in there who hasn’t earned a chance to shine in the last year.

There aren’t really that many options for a winner but that’s always the case. This one is going to go to Jericho or Punk, and my money’s on Punk. I’m also expecting the booking and talent level to make this the match of the night.
The SmackDown Chamber, thanks to Show and Khali, won’t be quite as impressive. Orton being pulled from the line-up is also a blow. His replacement is a worse one: at Tuesday’s SmackDown taping Santino Marella won a battle royal to earn the vacant spot in the World Heavyweight championship bout.

I understand that the SmackDown roster is desperately thin on babyface stars but the addition of Santino is absurd. Christian is surely capable of returning from the ankle injury he suffered in November by now, and could have been turned emergency face. The same goes, at a push, for Jack Swagger. He’s currently killing time playing backup to Dolph Ziggler on RAW, he could have been given a chance to succeed as a mid-card face on SmackDown. Had WWE not squandered Zack Ryder’s popularity in the recent Kane v Cena feud he could have been given a shot in the Chamber too. Including Santino only makes a bad situation worse.
On the positive side if Barrett, Rhodes and Bryan are allowed to do their stuff it could still be excellent. As I mentioned above I can imagine Khali and Show’s involvement being limited. Santino will probably get a fair amount of ring time simply because he’s in better condition than those too. He’s over so that will at least ensure the crowd get into the match. Show will probably eliminate Rhodes or Barrett (or both) before being eliminated by Bryan or Khali (in the absence of Orton, who was my original choice to eliminate ‘The World’s Largest Athlete’).

Assuming he recovers I’m currently expecting a Randy Orton v Sheamus v Daniel Bryan match at WrestleMania XXVIII. As he’s the only one of the three in the cage on Sunday Bryan is the man I’m expecting to see walk out with the gold.
I also think there was something a little off about Sheamus mentioning how every year at least one world title changes hands on this show. That made me think that WWE were drawing attention to the statistic so that they could play on it and make people expect a title change when there isn’t one planned at all. Perhaps I’m overthinking that (in fact I definitely am) but it’s what struck me when it was said.

Then there’s the rest of the card. While the titular bouts make me actively look forward to this show both of the other announced matches just make me feel apathetic. The worst offender is the John Cena v Kane ambulance match. Those two have been rucking for two months now and yet all they’ve really accomplished is some storyline rubbish involving fireballs and Zack Ryder failing to change a car tyre.
With Cena about to head into his feud with The Rock I imagine he’ll win this to look strong for WrestleMania. As tedious as the feud’s been at least it’s given us Royal Rumble and Elimination Chamber matches without Cena involved. That’s a big bonus as it’s allowed other people the chance to take a turn in the spotlight without WWE needing to promote pay-per-views without their top star.

Beth Phoenix defending the Divas’ title against Tamina Snuka, as she is now being billed, should be a good WWE women’s match and due to the slight number of matches announced for the show there’s a good chance they’ll get an above average amount of time. I’d like to see the discord between the Sisters of Destruction that was hinted at a few weeks ago revisited and built on here. Natalya v Beth Phoneix is the way to go for this year’s WrestleMania.
That’s it for the currently announced matches at Elimination Chamber 2012. That WWE is only advertising four bouts for a show in their peak viewing period of the year is worrying. Plans need to be made farther in advance if this is the attitude being taken towards B level PPVs. Sheamus, the Royal Rumble winner and challenger to a world title at WrestleMania, is not advertised to do anything on the show. Give him a match or announce that he’s going to decide who he’ll face at ‘Mania. Do something with him. Right now he looks like an afterthought (not even that, technically) rather than the top babyface star he should be.

He's on the poster but he has no match. What will Sheamus end up doing when he makes his inevitable appearance on Sunday?

With so many top names involved in Chamber matches WWE could be using this show to try and put a little more emphasis on the Divas and tag team divisions. That’s clearly not happening though, because WWE doesn’t see them as being important or a way of making money. That’s a shame. Female wrestlers, if given enough time, can be just as entertaining as their male counterparts. Tag teams meanwhile, are great places for young guys to start out their WWE careers before progressing on to become integral mid-card solo acts. It worked for Shawn Michaels. I have written these things before.

While I’m sure Elimination Chamber will be saved by the world title bouts it’s a shame that we have nothing more to look forward to on such a pivotal show. Especially when the company is said to be preparing several big angles for Monday’s RAW.

Predictions summary:
CM Punk to retain the WWE championship
Daniel Bryan to retain the World Heavyweight championship
John Cena to defeat Kane
Beth Phoenix to defeat Tamina Snuka

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