Previously on the Best and Worst of WWE Elimination Chamber: Bray Wyatt became WWE Champion, beginning the “Era of Wyatt” and establishing him as one of the most important stars in the company. Not the kind of guy you’d have project bugs into the ring at WrestleMania, or wrestle in a haunted house, or lose all his matches and end up feuding with the D+ version of a TNA character. I’m not even checking the notes, I know this is true!
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Here’s the Best and Worst of WWE Elimination Chamber for February 25, 2018.
A Necessary Worst: Predictability
Let’s get this out of the way right at the beginning: Elimination Chamber was maybe the most predictable, safe, and by-the-numbers pay-per-view WWE’s put on in a while. Two truths, at least as I see it:
- Truth #1: It can be super frustrating to watch a predictable wrestling show when the direction of the predictability isn’t going the way you’d like, but also
- Truth #2: Sometimes it’s extremely necessary to follow through with a predictable wrestling story, because it’s what youv’e been devoting weeks and sometimes months (and sometimes YEARS) of television to, and illogically changing it up at the last second to avoid “being predictable” is a creative wank
I’m not offering up a Hot Take® by saying WWE’s struggled with storytelling lately. By “lately” I mean “since 1998,” but you know what I mean. Raw and Smackdown are caught in this sunken place between giving crowds what they want — all the big name indie signings, matches like Gargano/Almas, all the Braun Strowman prop and musical violence — and doing what they want to do. The two places seem like opposites in WWE’s eyes, but they feed each other. So with the biggest show of the year coming up, WWE goes into a sort of “safe mode” where the shows feel purposeful, but they lose their spontaneity. Outside of WrestleMania the shows are more predictable, but often the quality sags, because there’s no sense of logic or reason. The saddest truth is that reason and logic are, by nature, the most predictable concepts.
That leaves us with a pay-per-view that “bored” a lot of people or underwhelmed them, because WWE’s booking has lacked confidence for a long time, and it did what it had to do. So you’ve got this show where yeah, Asuka beats Nia Jax, because she’s undefeated and WrestleMania’s coming up. And of course the tag champs retain, because they’re ostensibly up against jobbers who got lucky in non-title matches because the champs were distracted. And of course Matt Hardy and Bray Wyatt is a stinker, and of course Alexa Bliss retains while ignoring the like month of booking before the match, and of course Sasha and Bayley are passive-aggressively turning on each other without doing anything, and of course Roman Reigns pins Braun Strowman and is going on to main event WrestleMania for the fourth time in a row whether you like it or not. So at the end of the show, we feel two things:
- frustration at how predictable and basic everything feels, and
- understanding that if you’re going from A to B to C to D, you have to do B and C, whether it’s compelling as hell or not
That’s the arc of the show. It’s intentional, and it sucks if you’ve been sitting through a bunch of much worse shows waiting for the big payoff to make it all worth your time, but it is what it is. That should be the Network slogan, with R-Truth dancing it onto the screen.
Best: Beast Mode Nia, Though
My favorite match on the card was actually Nia Jax vs. Asuka, because like the best of Asuka’s (and Brock Lesnar’s) matches, it at times felt a little more like a fight than the normal product. There was a strong sense of urgency to it, and I enjoy that Asuka’s winning streak has never felt as much like a booking decision as it does Asuka being a fucking bad-ass who can beat everybody. I think that’s due to TAFKA Kana’s strength as a performer, and her ability to change up her in-ring storytelling based on the opponent. When she’s in there with Liv Morgan, she dances around and acts like an asshole. When she’s in there with Bayley, she gets tough but stays respectable, because Bayley’s nice and doesn’t disrespect her. When she’s in there with Sasha, she gets ruder, because Sasha’s ruder, but she’s still a confident force. When she’s in the ring with Nia, she shrinks a little, and the strikes and subsmissions seem more purposeful and desperate, because for lack of a better way of describing it, Asuka has to “try.” When she’s wrestling Ember, who absolutely has her number, she gets overconfident to mask her worries and starts taking shitty shortcuts. Asuka’s ability to adapt and tell her story without trampling on her opponent’s is what makes her one of the very best workers in the world.
Yeah, it was predictable, but at eight minutes it didn’t overstay its welcome, had some clear stipulations, and always felt like it was happening for a reason. If we’re talking the OPPOSITE of that …
Worst: Join Us On Monday When Bray Wyatt Attacks Matt Hardy To Set Up Another Goddamn Bray Wyatt Match
The worst part of the show by far was Matt Hardy once again taking on crab-walkin’ Post Malone in a battle of the Aimless Laughing Guys. We’ve spent several months on the “why can’t WWE just let Matt Hardy do Matt Hardy shit,” so I’ll spare you that rant again. WHY CAN’T WWE JUST LET MATT HARDY DO MATT HARDY SHIT. DUDE CREATED AN ENTIRE POPULAR PRO WRESTLING UNIVERSE IN HIS BACKYARD ON A SHOW NOBODY LIKES, NOW HE’S IN FRONT OF TENS OF THOUSANDS OF PEOPLE AND IS WORKING WITH MILLIONS OF DOLLARS AND THE BEST VIDEO PRODUCTION TEAM ON THE PLANET AND ALL THEY CAN DO IS LAUGH AND TRADE LOSSES, I HATE THIS. CAPITAL LETTERS.
I’m not sure there’s a person left on this precious baby planet that wants to see garbage-ass Bray Wyatt have another match with half-broken Matt Hardy. If you polled 100 wrestling fans from the child two rows behind you in full Finn Bálor cosplay to Cain Velasquez in an El Santo mask to Dave Meltzer scribbling “flat” onto a small notebook, about 97 of them would tell you they hope Matt Hardy moves on soon, gets back to doing his bizarrely endearing Matt Hardy shit, and leaves Bray Wyatt and his Abdullah the Butcher forehead hairline alone forever.
Matt pinning Bray clean here was the followup to Bray pinning Matt clean on Raw 25, so … [sigh] expect this to set up another Hardy vs. Wyatt thing for WrestleMania. The good news is that maybe that one will bring the Broken Universe into play and give us Vanguard 1 and Senor Benjamin and King Maxel and Brother Nero and Reby playing piano. The bad news is that they might’ve already made us lemon-faced about it before it even really starts.
Can Raw trade Bray to the Superstars Brand or something so I don’t have to watch him go through these motions anymore?
Nothing: The Raw Tag Team Championship match
Inspiring no heated emotions whatsoever is Titus Worldwide defeating The Bar a few times in non-title matches to set up them losing a title match on the pay-per-view. This was fine, but it was also very much a Raw match, and Titus O’Neil might be the worst Robert Gibson ever. I don’t blame them for being stuck with this match, mind you, as Jason Jordan’s hurt and Dean Ambrose is hurt, The Club and the Miztourage are on the pre-show with matching heat, and The Revival’s still recovering from getting nostalgia bukkake’d at Raw 25. Who are they gonna have a title match against, Heath Slater and Rhyno? Come on.
I think it’d be a very good idea at this point to bring over one of those undercard babyface tag teams from Smackdown to breathe a little life into the division. Like, bring over Breezango and give them a transitional title run to get the belts from The Bar to The Revival, and rebuild the tag division from there. I like The Bar, but let’s be real, that team’s a false flag to keep us from Universal Champion Cesaro. Give Sheamus some time off to heal finally, and let Cesaro uppercut the fucking frick out of Roman Reigns at Backlash, or whatever.
Best: The Best (And Worst) Of Elimination Chamber
Like most people I’ve read who’ve seen the show, I thought the history-making™ first-ever women’s™ Elimination Chamber match™ at Elimination Chamber pay-per-view® was very good, but not without its flaws. To break it down more effectively, I’m going to change up my normal Best and Worst format to tell you what the best and worst parts of the match were. Wait, what?
So on the positive side, I enjoyed the way the match was put together. It was paced well and had an easy-to-follow story, with Absolution getting an early advantage on Bayley and Sasha Banks having to come to her aid, only for Sasha’s ego to eventually get the better of her, cause her to turn on Bayley too early and cost them both the match (and a title match at WrestleMania). It also worked in some big moments to keep it exciting, like Bliss’ beautiful Twisted Bliss from the top of a pod — more on that in a sec — and Mickie James trying to blow out both of her knees with a pod-to-mat Lou Thesz press. Bliss retaining was the obvious call, but I like how they continue to portray her as the only smart person in the entire division (and possibly Raw) by having her play Sasha’s hubris against Bayley’s naïveté and come out on top. Plus, Bliss deserves a WrestleMania spot after all the good work she’s done. Bayley and Sasha deserve a match against one another, too, but it doesn’t really need a championship belt attached. Maybe they could make it a number one contender match or something.
The best part of maybe the entire show as Bliss’ post-match interview, wherein she pretends to get emotional about being a role model for all of us out here and starts to tear up only to pull it back and tell us we’re hot garbage and we’ll never be like her. Pitch-perfect. The difference between The Goddess Alexa Bliss and the glitter sneezing cheerleader fairy from NXT is that she became fully formed, to the point that even if she was worse in the ring and looked like the French Angel in a Party City wig, her reality as a three-dimensional actual person would make her a truly unique part of a women’s division on a wrestling program that sometimes forgets to finish its work.
Somewhere in the middle of the Best-to-Worst spectrum for me was Sasha Banks Lion King‘ing Bayley. Sure, we were all chanting “yes” when it happened because LOL Bayley, but also how dumb is Sasha Banks? You don’t partner with someone for an entire match in hopes of defeating the champion in an elimination match, get a 2-on-1 advantage against said champion at the very end and TURN ON YOUR FRIEND BEFORE YOU’VE ELIMINATED THE COMMON ENEMY. It’s insanity. Seth Rollins pulled the same shit with Roman Reigns in the men’s Chamber match, where they’re trying to take out Braun and as soon as they’ve got an advantage he’s like I’M GONNA KICK MY FRIEND. We get it, it’s every man for himself, but basic-ass strategy suggests if you’ve got an advantage, have that advantage until you’ve completed your task and don’t need it anymore.
A few supplementary Worsts, which thankfully are more nitpicky than OUTRAGE~:
- Did they really spend the entire month before this match building up Alexa Bliss and Mickie James’ relationship and their ongoing beef with Absolution just to eliminate Mickie James and both members of Absolution before Bliss ever got into the ring? Why?
- Mandy Rose is now the first woman eliminated in the first-ever women’s Royal Rumble match, and the first woman eliminated in the first-ever women’s Elimination Chamber match. I hope they do the first ever women’s Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal at WrestleMania (the Mountain Fiji Memorial?) and eliminate Mandy first. Did Paige getting hurt again put Mandy in a position she wasn’t really ready for, or is the main roster just exposing her as not very good? I honestly like her a lot as Functional Eva Marie, but lately it’s been rough going
- Gigantic Negative One to Sasha Banks for no-selling a Sparkle Splash from the top of a damn pod. It looked like she was supposed to roll through it into the submission, but (1) you’re in the outside-the-ring part of the Elimination Chamber that’s supposed to hurt so much more, and you’re just ignoring it, and (2) you can at least act a little hurt while you’re rolling through. You don’t have to go comatose to sell it, but shit, it’s her finish and she did it to you from higher up. In wrestling terms that’s like getting hit in the chest with a sledgehammer
The same general feeling of “I liked most of this, but what?” of the women’s Elimination Chamber match continued into the men’s match thanks to the irresistible force of Braun Strowman’s cool factor and popularity met the immovable object of WWE’s undying dedication to putting Roman Reigns over.
I know you don’t want to read another Internet Guy’s feelings on Roman Reigns, but the guy’s vibe is such an albatross around his neck that he can be perfectly fine on the microphone, good-to-great in the ring and occasionally brilliant at creating WWE’s precious “moments” and still make us all facepalm through muted boos about him winning a match we knew he was gonna win. It’s so strange. WWE’s insistence that no, this is our top star, not the several other possible top stars you’ve been begging us to love for the past four years of endless Reigns. He can lose more than he wins, but WWE’s attitude toward him, his natural unlikability as a personality conflicting with how great he’d be if he just leaned into it and started purposefully shitting in our cereal, and, let’s say it again, goddamn bulletproof vest makes him feel more like an action figure your rich friend won’t let you play with than a pro wrestler. It’s not his fault. I mean, it’s partially his fault, but it’s not his fault. He does what he’s told, like everyone, and he’s very good at it. The problem is that they won’t stop telling him this one thing, even after a large portion of the audience has spent nearly half a decade pleading, “something else, please.”
They worked overtime to keep Braun strong here, and I appreciate that, although I think it works a lot better on paper. On paper, you say that Roman pins Braun, but Braun shows his dominance by pinning everyone else in the match by himself, clean, with his finish. That’s strong. But the Roman bullshit seeps in again, and the talking point goes from “Braun wore himself out wrecking five guys by himself” to “Braun just pinned everyone so Roman could pin the guy who pinned everyone and look the strongest.” Whether that’s even accurate or not becomes irrelevant, because Roman Reigns is such a stressful-ass conversation.
We knew the result going in. We know the WrestleMania result. This is — Jesus, hopefully — the culmination of a very long story WWE needs to tell to completion. Maybe if we just throw up our hands and let it happen, we’ll send Brock back to an even more part-time gig in UFC, move forward with dickbag entitled champion Reigns, transform him into a more accurate version of what his character could be, and give him some fresh opponents for barn-burner matches in the main event. Reigns is good as shit in the ring, you guys, it’s just literally everything else that sucks.
See also: Cena, John.
Remember that thing I said about WWE having the best production team in the world? No matter how absurd the idea of John Cena “not having a road to WrestleMania” is when he’s goddamn John Cena and can just announce himself into a WrestleMania main event whenever he wants, seeing sad old Big Match John being literally “locked out” of a WrestleMania appearance is GREAT. I don’t think Cena’s ever looked older or sadder than in this GIF, and that’s a good starting point for a reality based WrestleMania build. We all (rightfully) assume he’ll end up throwing hands with fellow youth The Undertaker, but how relieving would it be to see John go the opposite direction and actually put someone over for real on what might reasonable be one of his last dozen-or-so WrestleManias?
Other notes on the match:
- Elias is so over with live crowds right now it’s almost hard to believe. If people weren’t chanting “Rusev Day” during several Raw roster matches and Strowman wasn’t there, I’d say he was the most over person in the company. His act just works, and for some reason live crowds (and myself, especially) love hearing him acoustically dump on literally every city in the world. Just once I want Elias to be like, “we’re here in Naples, Florida, which I actually think is a really nice place to live. Anywhere, here’s a song about how I hate Apollo, or whatever.”
- Miz continues to be brilliant, and his Duck Duck Goose kicks were great. And hey, shout-out to the King of Safe Style for taking a flying leap off an Elimination Chamber pod! In Miz terms he might as well have been chokeslammed off the Empire State Building.
- Seth Rollins is your guy, WWE, please notice that and don’t put him in a WrestleMania ring against another very old guy he’ll give a broken face and spinal distress
- Also, Finn Bálor was in this match. He did about 65 Slingblades, but also several dropkicks and stomps! Real talk, I think Brock Lesnar’s got a deeper moveset than Finn right now.
Best/Worst: Lousy Ronda
Finally, let’s talk about Ronda “Shy Ronnie” Rousey and her Diss The Diva contract signing.
Again, on paper, this is a perfect segment. You have Triple H and Stephanie McMahon disingenuously introduce Ronda Rousey and praise her for being Lord and Savior or whatever, and you get the smarter people in the crowd wondering why they love her so much if she tossed them around at WrestleMania 31. You have Ronda show a little humility — she doesn’t want any special treatment or to be inserted into any big matches, she’s here because she loves it and was inspired by Rowdy Roddy Piper — and have it revealed that the Authority’s bringing her in like this so they can control her. Ronda goes angry-faced, which she does better than anybody in the world, Triple H gets tabled, and Stephanie escapes a beatdown to set up the Mania match.
In reality, there were a couple of problems. The most notable is that Rousey doesn’t know how to talk like a pro wrestler yet. That doesn’t mean doing a Hulk Hogan or Macho Man impersonation and yelling a lot like sitcoms might tell you, I just mean she doesn’t know how to concisely hit her talking points and project her voice. She sounds like a normal person doing a post-match interview for a real fight, which these aren’t. You gotta have some “show” in your biz. And frankly, Rousey should rarely, if ever, talk into a microphone. If it’s not her strength, and her VERY OBVIOUS strengths are facial expressions and judo violence, maybe don’t immediately toss her into a live promo? Whether we like her as a person or whatever is irrelevant; you’re booking her and this isn’t real, so book to promote her strengths and navigate around her weaknesses. They should do that with everyone, and they never seem to, and that’s the weirdest thing.
It started off absolutely brutal, but once we got to the Working Overtime part, it was good. Kurt Angle leaning into his role as a punch drunk GM wanting to save the legitimate athlete he identifies with from his awful bosses who keep betraying and disrespecting him was great. I thought Triple H was gonna take him out back and shoot him for a second. Angle as Rousey’s friend makes more sense than The Rock, as they’re both Olympic athletes with real sports pedigrees who got into pro wrestling as a second career. Rock and Ronda are just famous people who are friends. Either one works, but I think Kurt works better. Plus, Kurt literally works better.
All in all, I thought of this segment as a worse version of Floyd Mayweather getting into the ring at No Way Out and breaking Big Show’s nose. Keep in mind that that’s one of the most organic feeling fights, especially in the celebrity division, that WWE’s had in this modern era, so “worse than that” is still not horrible. Just maybe don’t let Ronda cut live promos for a while if she can’t project beyond a mumble and nearly bursts into tears because an eighth of the audience is chanting her name. Kinda like how she smiled through the Royal Rumble appearance. We know she loves it and I would never doubt that, but can we make her a threatening MMA bad-ass with Paul Heyman speaking for her instead of Judo Jimmy Fallon?
Best: Top 10-ish Comments Of The Night
Jushin Thunder Bieber
I can’t believe WWE would do this to us on Rusev Day
“Roman gets what he wanted!”
Not even Brandon could write a summary of WWE so succinct.
Beige Lunatics, King of String Style
Roman’s in his pod now. It’s a dick in a box!
The Real Birdman
Hands! Get your hands, here!
Braun: “I’M NOT LOCKED IN HERE WITH YOU. YOU’RE LOCKED IN HERE WITH ME!!!”
Elias is playing guitar inside a cage like he’s at the Double Deuce.
Just waiting for Asuka to drag Ronda’s unconscious body to the ring and sign the contract weekend at bernie’s style.
Backstage there are like 8 wrestlers holding Cesaro back from charging the crowd.
They keep saying Matt Hardy is going through a midlife crisis but Bray is the one who put on some weight and cheated on his wife with a younger woman.
the rousey pit is going to be the worst segment ever.
Kurt’s looking at her like, “Just the promo I’d expect from someone who got bronze pssshhh”
That’s it for this year’s Elimination Chamber report. We’re just one more Smackdown PPV away from Actual WrestleMania Season, and it can’t come soon enough. Thanks for reading as always, and preemptive love for you sharing the column on social media and dropping a comment below.
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