I'll begin my recap in the middle of the card with the SmackDown Elimination Chamber. That's the one that should have opened the show, because it had fewer big names and a lump like the Great Khali to incorporate. A spot involving Big Show breaking into Daniel Bryan's pod and smashing him through the allegedly bulletproof Plexiglas meant that the blue brand's cage clash had to go on after its RAW counterpart. Had it gone on first the RAW crew would have had a broken pod to contend with. Clearly that wasn’t an option.
This match had some big limitations to work around. Firstly Randy Orton was injured, and he clearly would have been booked as the star babyface and clashed with defending champion Daniel Bryan in the closing moments. His replacement, Santino Marella, may be over but he’s also a comedy figure and so was never going to convince anyone that he had a chance of winning. The other two good guys were limited in what they could do (severely limited in the case of 'The Punjabi Playboy'), and the three best workers in the match were all heels.
That's a lot to overcome, but all six men and the writing team pulled off a very enjoyable match. Big Show was booked as a monster and put over rising star Cody Rhodes on his way out. Both were good moves. Khali's involvement was kept brief so he didn't get the chance to ruin things. Barrett was booked to look dominant in the second half of the bout, battering both Bryan and Santino. The match's greatest strength lay in letting Daniel Bryan do what he does best in the closing moments: making a wrestler (in this case 'The Milan Miracle') far below him on the card look like his equal and genuine contender.
The World Heavyweight championship match was a triumph. Congratulations to everyone involved.
Sadly the same can’t be said of the RAW brand's Chamber extravaganza. It's not that the match was bad, it just didn't make the most of what it had. Dolph Ziggler and Kofi Kingston both deserved to be elevated with strong performances. Neither was. Kofi was one of the first two men in and lasted a fairly long time, but he was in there to make others look good and set up an angle between Jericho and Punk (I’ll get to that). He deserves a chance at cracking the main event scene. That didn't happen here and it's unlikely to happen any time in the foreseeable future.
'The Heel' was dealt an even worse hand than 'The Dreadlocked Dynamo’, lasting a shorter amount of time and being eliminated far too easily with a single Codebreaker. Miz got a better deal: he was one of the final two men in the match alongside defending champion CM Punk. That surprised me: he was rumoured to be in management's bad books after failing to catch R-Truth on RAW a few weeks ago so the last thing I expected was for him to be in the closing moments of the match alongside the WWE champion.
I dislike saying it but Miz shouldn't have made it that far. He had a fair chance to establish himself as a headliner last year and didn't manage it. That he's sunk back to the middle of the card in the last nine months is nobody's fault but his own. Ziggler would have been a better choice for that spot as he’s a man on the rise.
The other reason this match didn't go on higher on the card (besides Big Show wrecking the cage) was that the finish would have been and immensely disappointing way to end a pay-per-view. For those who are unaware Chris Jericho tossed Kofi Kingston through the open doorway after eliminating him then turned around into a kick from Punk that sent him sprawling to the aisle. He then lolled about on the concrete as though he'd suffered a concussion or some other injury that would prevent him from continuing (he hadn’t). That led to the climactic moments between Miz and the champ. Jericho didn't return to the cage and failed to be eliminated. I imagine this will be referenced on RAW this evening and lead to 'Y2J' demanding a one-on-one title match at WrestleMania. He will receive it.
In a strange in-ring segment we witnessed the return of both Alberto Del Rio and Christian. They both came out to advocate John Laurinaitis taking over the role of SmackDown GM from Teddy Long. I don’t think that would be a bad idea: Long has been in that role, on and off, for eight years now and has done everything he can in it. Laurinaitis appearing on both shows would allow the brand extension idea to be officially dissolved, which is in WWE’s best interests right now considering the shallow depth of the roster.
It was irritating that Christian returned here in an in-ring segment and not a month ago at the Royal Rumble or on Friday’s SmackDown to be included in the Chamber scrap. As he’s clearly being kept as a heel the decision makes sense, but I still think turning him emergency babyface and letting him perform what became Santino’s role would have been a better decision for business.
The view from Otunga's phone during the returning-heel heavy in-ring segment.
The filler matches were what you'd expect. Beth Phoenix and Tamina Snuka put on an enjoyable show that the crowd didn't care about. Surprisingly, nothing was set up for the Divas' division going into WrestleMania. Would it really have been that much effort to have Natalya get into an argument with her fellow Sister of Destruction or for Kharma to make her second appearance of 2012 for a stare-off with the champ?
The other filler match was Jack Swagger defending his worthless United States title against Justin Gabriel. The match was set up in a backstage skit that also involved Vickie Guerrero and Hornswoggle. It was as good as it sounds. Swagger won a limp showing that was oddly placed between the SmackDown Chamber match and the evening’s main event.
Which brings us nicely to the John Cena versus Kane Ambulance match. The two had an entertaining brawl that took in the seating area and some technical tables, before Cena got the inevitable win by AAing ‘The Big Red Monster’ off the top of the ambulance onto a waiting (and hidden from view) crash mat. This match accomplished its two main goals of ending the feud and making Cena look strong for his upcoming exchanges with The Rock. It did nothing else. That it went on last annoys me but ultimately it makes little difference because the card was such a washout. For the record, that decision was made so that the show ended with a face victory (Cena) instead of a heel victory (Bryan). At least we know WWE still thinks of things like that from time to time. That’s an encouraging sign.
Overall Elimination Chamber was another blown opportunity and it looks as though tonight’s RAW is going to be a better show, just as the post-Rumble RAW was superior to the Rumble. The Undertaker is confirmed to appear, Cena is going to start targeting Rock (which will be far more interesting than what he’s been doing with Kane) and there are said to be several big angles planned that will kick off WrestleMania feuds. WWE needs to get itself out of the habit of giving away appearances by big names on free television and start making audiences pay for them. This is not the way wrestling is supposed to work!