WWE rolled into the New Orleans Arena last night for the final pay-per-view before the April Classic, WrestleMania!
So...did they? Well, for the most part WWE managed to take a few repeat matches and twist them in small, yet meaningful ways. It wasn't a complete success from top-to-bottom, but Elimination Chamber hosted several quality matches and few fun surprises along the way.
We kicked off the night with the third encounter in two months, between Alberto del Rio and Big Show for the World Heavyweight Championship. A year ago I would have hit the snooze button on the very idea of a program between the two. Big Show has long-since been stale in many fans' eyes, and del Rio hadn't quite recovered from the lousy WWE Championship reigns he had against CM Punk and John Cena in 2011. Enter an unexpected babyface shift for the Latino Superstar, and a (yet again) new-found intensity for the Giant, and suddenly we've got the makings of a great feud on our hands! I've been absolutely loving the work between these two guys on both Raw and Smackdown every week, and while their match at Elimination Chamber last night was arguably the worst of their three encounters, it still had its moments.
Unfortunately, Show seemed to be going through the motions here, as a lot of their big spots we've seen in recent matches. The Champion, on the other hand, seemed fluid and organic with his intensely physical offense. With a legitimate background in MMA, it's awesome to see a "good guy" employ a flurry of kicks into his repertoire, working over his opponent's arm to set up for the finishing submission. Way too often we get babyfaces who play dead, only to spring back to life in time for the "upset" victory - more on that later. I'm loving del Rio right now, and I see him retaining the World title all the way to WrestleMania.
Speaking of the World Heavyweight Championship match, Jack Swagger stole a huge win in the Elimination Chamber, securing his (pretty damn unlikely) spot in a WrestleMania main event. I'll be the first to admit, until last week's episode of Raw, I didn't see this one coming at all. I'm glad WWE is utilizing Swagger, and bringing back "Dirty" Dutch gives him a sense of urgency and importance on the roster. The problem now is turning the ever-present "WHAT!?" chants into legitimate heel heat they can use to sell main events AFTER WrestleMania. Swagger is a great wrestler, but if he can't draw heat - and he's always had trouble with this - with or without Uncle Zeb, he's going to flop yet again.
The Chamber match itself left something to be desired, at least by my standards. There's only so many times you can watch one guy throw another into a cage before boredom sets in. Mark Henry throwing Orton through the "glass" was the only dangerous spot that stands out in my memory. I did enjoy the various stories being told throughout the match however, and I think they did a lot to further angles going into WrestleMania. Kane and Daniel Bryan were eliminated first (and second), and it's likely we're looking at a rift between the two, leading to the highly anticipated singles match this April. Chris Jericho seemed just to be along for the ride, with no real story to tell except getting a great reaction, but I enjoyed his work as per usual. And aside from Mark Henry, who probably looked the best leaving the PPV last night, the real story has to be the subtle attitude and facial expressions from Randy Orton after the match. I still think that heel turn is coming; he can only be pushed aside for so long until the Viper snaps...
Moving in a completely different direction, the Shield secured their second - arguably biggest - victory in the WWE last night. I had the Super Friends taking that match 9-to-1, and by the talk on Twitter this past week, most people agreed with me. Surely John Cena wouldn't lose just six week out from WrestleMania, would he? Surely Sheamus and Ryback wouldn't fail on the same team, right? HEY TNA: THIS IS HOW YOU BOOK THE ANGLE YOU'RE TRYING (and failing) TO ACCOMPLISH! Dean Ambrose, Roman Reigns and Seth Rollins have been used to absolute perfection. These are not your typical Superstars. They don't have gimmicky movesets..yet. They've had exactly TWO matches in the WWE, and they've won them both. They've taken their lumps and beatdowns in recent weeks at the hands of three of the biggest stars in wrestling today, but they had one thing going for them last night, and John Layfield nailed it on the head during his fantastic work on commentary: They - Were - A - Team.
The main event, WWE Championship match between CM Punk and the Rock was pretty much exactly what I had expected. The final five minutes of the fight were intense, with several near-falls and each guy hitting their respective finishers. Thank goodness Rocky didn't win with the People's Elbow again, or all the annoying nit-pickers would have lost their collective minds again. My real problem with the match was the same problem I have with most main event WWE matches, and the reason I like Alberto del Rio so much: the babyface - in this case, the Rock - spent the entire match getting his ass kicked. It didn't make me cheer for him any louder in the end either; I still have no emotional connection to him as the WWE Champion. I'm sure many will praise them for their great "ring psychology" in last night's match, but I personally found it quite boring. Punk worked some great moments early on, bringing the special count-out/DQ rules into play. Heyman was great. But they over-saturated the end with not one, but two referee bumps (the second was one of the worst I've ever seen), and it quickly became painstakingly obvious what they were doing. I'm going to get hell for this, but Rock may as well have been John Cena last night.
As far as the mid-card goes, Antonio Cesaro and Miz worked a surprisingly athletic match. Many will be quick to praise Cesaro - and they should, he's brilliant - but I give Miz a ton of credit as well. The finish was weird, and incredibly anticlimactic, but if nothing else I want to see how it unfolds on Raw. We were also treated to a surprise filler match between Dolph Ziggler and Kofi Kingston. While I feel bad for Kofi, always being put in this position no matter who he's working (usually Barrett and del Rio), Ziggler desperately needed to win something for a change. Big E Langston got his time in the spotlight as well. Kaitlyn continues to impress me as Divas Champion, but the title has become so irrelevant I don't even remember the last time it was brought up on Monday Night Raw. I miss Eve...
WWE Elimination Chamber had its share of decent wrestling, but ultimately while I was appeased and entertained for the majority of the night, they fell short in a few big areas that could have improved the show drastically overall. My biggest complaints rest in the WWE Championship match, which I won't continue beating into the ground. Suffice it to say, Rock and Cena better show up to work tonight on Raw, and in a pretty big way if they want to get me interested in Round 2 for WrestleMania. The Chamber wasn't among the best in history, but they told good stories and everyone had a chance to come out looking strong - or at least intriguing, in Randy Orton's case. The rest of the card was solid, and I give major props to Alberto del Rio, Mark Henry and the Shield for sustaining my interest throughout the night.
The goal of Elimination Chamber is to clear the air of past feuds - Show/ADR, Punk/Rock - and make way for the last six weeks on the Road to WrestleMania. In that sense, they succeeded.