Fake Fighting Frenzy: WWE Elimination Chamber
By FAR the highlight of the pre-show is Distracted Carmella. She's on the pre-show panel and is basically on her phone the entire time and doesn't care about any of this and it's wonderful. Mojo Rawley wrestles Curt Hawkins and it's basically the kind of match you would see main event NXT Live at your county fair. Also, just gotta say, that opening video package was LIT.
Becky Lynch v. Mickie James:
This is a good choice for the "hype spot" and it's always nice to see a women's match in this spot. And yes, I complained about this at the Rumble but I really didn't think Charlotte/Bayley was a particularly good choice to open that show. It's also awesome to see THREE women's matches on a PPV. This one was roughly 2/3rds of a really good match, with Mickie doing some great work on Becky's left arm broken up by some great hope spots by Becky. Then the match gets abruptly cut short with a totally random reversal into a roll-up. Becky even used the left arm to reverse Mickie's finisher. I really don't understand why WWE constantly does this thing where they have an entire match built around a wrestler targeting a single body part only to book a finish that has absolutely nothing to do with any of it or even directly invalidates all of the work done on that body part but they seem to love it.
Dolph Ziggler v. Apollo Crews and Kalisto
Not sure why the guy who's fresh off a heel turn is in a handicap match against two guys--I get that Ziggler said he could beat them both but TONS of guys say blustery shit like that and the most that happens is they get put in a triple threat match or something--but I guess it kinda fits with the fact that the fans have been cheering Dolph's heel turn which I think illustrates how much the fans have wanted something new and fresh for Ziggler.
This is the problem with trying to have rigid alignments in the post-kayfabe era. The fans aren't necessarily just going to blindly cheer who you tell them to cheer and boo who you tell them to boo (at least a lot of them won't) so you have the do your best to maximize the organic reaction you get from the fans. If fans love Ziggler for acting like a "heel" then maybe you should think about why that is--hint: it probably has something to do with the fact that a guy they really want to like has been shit all over and is frustrated and fed up with looking like a helpless goober and now he's taking aggressive, assertive action to change his situation. Why not play that up and make lemonade out of it?
I know you want clear cut good guys and bad guys to show little kids how to behave and how not to behave but you're doing a terrible job of that anyway because WWE babyfaces are almost exclusively shitty, whiny, entitled bullies so maybe just let your characters be complex like they are on every other good show on television. Or, I dunno, maybe make your babyfaces actual genuinely good people who try hard and are passionate and care about what's right instead of being liked and don't use sexist, homophobic, childish insults and who everybody loves, in large part, because they're the best damn wrestlers you've got and stop trying to convince people someone is the best by having them win all the damn time. You can be the best wrestler in the world and still lose just like you can be the best MMA fighter, boxer, swimmer, football/basketball/baseball/hockey/soccer team, runner, etc. and still lose. Just not, like, ALL the damn time--because wins and losses do matter to some extent. But when you have babyfaces that everybody loves without having to be TOLD to love them, the only thing you really need to do to make heels is run them against the babyfaces. Lucha Underground understands this so well. Nobody actually HATES Mil Muertes or Matanza because they're total badasses. But when you run them against Prince Puma and Fenix and Rey Mysterio, the fans will boo them because they're trying to beat up their favorites.
Anyway, where were we? Oh right, a heel in a handicap match. So Ziggler immediately attacks Kalisto on his way to the ring. This is one of those things that seems like a heel move but if you really think about it, Ziggler is booked in a match that's inherently unfair in the first place so I feel like pretty much anything he does to try to win it is kinda fair game--which is kinda the whole problem with booking a heel a man down in a handicap match. Eventually Kalisto stumbles back to the ring--because the two-man team in a 2-on-1 handicap match apparently needed some odds to overcome--and proceeds to take the lukewarmest hot tag I've ever seen and completely no-sell all the damage he was selling on his way to the ring, flying around the ring and wailing on Ziggler to dead silence. Kalisto and Crews hit Ziggler with a tandem finisher for the pin. After the match, Ziggler attacks both guys (to resounding "YES!" chants, by the way) and Pillmanizes Apollo's leg with a chair--which, hopefully, at least will breathe some life into Crews's character, which has developed 100x more in this storyline than the rest of his main roster career combined (which isn't really saying much). Ziggler strolls back up the ramp to "THANK YOU ZIGGLER" chants to really drive home the massive failures of the booking of all of this.
Tag Team Turmoil:
I really liked this format because, in addition to showcasing the depth of the SmackDown tag division, it really gave each team a chance to shine in a one-on-one setting. I was particularly pleased that Breezdango didn't get dispatched in 30 seconds. I do have to wonder about American Alpha not going on first when they were the ones that challenged the whole division to give them some competition but it did have its benefits. Slater and Rhyno got to shine in their own right for a while instead of having American Alpha just blaze through the entire tag division and make them look totally inept. The Usos got some good time in as well, outsmarting Slater and Rhyno with tag team wrestling tactics and renewing hostilities with Alpha and attacking them after being pinned to give them some odds to overcome, which I think is the right choice. I loved Gable making the desperation save after Ascension came in to try to capitalize with the Fall of Man and I LOVED the ending sequence with Gable getting the hot tag, avoiding Konnor's interference, hitting Grand Amplitude, and Jordan LEAPING over him to keep Konnor from breaking up the pin.
Natalya v. Nikki Bella:
I was actually surprised how invested they got me in this match. I'm not a huge fan of either of these ladies but Natty has been VICIOUS to Nikki on the mic over the last couple weeks which has been really great. The match itself is actually a lot better than it has any business being. Even Nikki did some pretty good work here (her STF is like 100x better than John's, by the way). The urgency was there from both competitors. It wasn't the vicious, personal battle it could have been but it was close enough for me. The double countout at the end would have probably worked a lot better if they had just devolved into an all out brawl, maybe taking it out into the crowd or at least up the ramp but the fact that they were literally watching the ref's count and then Nikki tried to get back in and Natty pulled her away to force the double countout was really lame. And then it led to just another in a series of post-match attacks on this card, which did get old after a while. The whole "nothing is settled between these two" thing doesn't really work when one of them made a conscious effort to see to it that nothing was settled.
Randy Orton v. Luke Harper:
I'm not quite as high on this match as others. The first half of the match was SO boring because both guys seemed to be wrestling as heels which made for the slowest imaginable match. Mercifully, they both woke up (especially Harper) halfway through the match and the second half of the match was the best match of the night in a walk. Harper works his ass off and gets everyone in the building (including Randy) invested in the match. I really would have liked to see Harper pull out a win here because he needs it and Orton doesn't need it at all. I would have at least loved to see Harper kick out of the RKO because that would have made the crowd go nuclear.
Naomi v. Alexa Bliss:
I don't really know what to say about this. I guess Naomi being from Orlando counts as a story from a WWE Creative perspective but this was her big moment and it didn't feel like that to me. Which is weird because the crowd was chanting "YOU DESERVE IT" so maybe this just wasn't for me. Nothing wrong with that. Lots of people enjoyed this and I wasn't into it. That's all.
I loved the new design of the chamber until I realized there was black padding over the grates outside the ring. Believe me, I understand the necessity to protect the performers but I can't help it, this really took me out of the match. Although it did seem like the wrestlers were a lot more willing to use the chains and the pods than in past years which was likely due to the padding so I guess it's a fair trade. The match was still really good. Set up a Baron Corbin/Dean Ambrose feud, Miz did some great character work, and, of course, Cena/Wyatt/AJ as the final three was dazzling. I've already written a lot about why I think the way all of this is being booked makes no sense so I'll just say that it was still great to see Bray Wyatt finally reach the top of the mountain where he belongs. Not only that but he got to pin John Cena and AJ Styles to do it. The crowd was JACKED when it came down to AJ and Bray and having them feud over the belt one-on-one in the near future would be a slam dunk. Also, so would an AJ Styles v. Bray Wyatt v. John Cena triple threat match. Maybe we'll get one of those in the not-too-distant future...
(ALL photos are courtesy of WWE.com and WWE)