Monday, 1 June 2015

WWE Elimination Chamber 2015 review

Every so often WWE manages to put on a pay-per-view so good it reminds you why you bother with them at all. The matches are exciting, they have a reason to happen, and performers look better afterwards than they did before. Technically this was not one of those times because this card wasn't available on pay-per-view. It was available exclusively on the WWE Network, an experimental offering designed to gauge the interest and feasibility of similar specials in the future. But in terms of ticking all the boxes required to remind you what WWE's like when it's good this show got the job done.

After a pre-show which saw Stardust beat Zack Ryder and Daniel Bryan appear on Miz TV to hype his book, Tough Enough and life in general the Elimination Chamber spesh got underway with the tag team championship Elimination Chamber (the first of its kind, fact fans!). The Ascension and the Lucha Dragons started the match with a stretch characterised by Cole and JBL fumbling their way through awkward chatter about the rivalry the teams had in NXT. The decision to have these four lads kick the match off struck as some sort of test to see if the audience would break into an NXT chant in a similar way to how audiences used to when ECW alums wrestled one another. If that was the case then this crowd failed.

New Day suck.
There were no eliminations to be had this early. They had a basic exchange which ended with the Dragons on top of pods. Sin Cara hit a Swanton bomb on Konnor but Kalisto was unable to perform his move of choice as New Day had grabbed his leg. Cara was unable to capitalise, presumably because he'd winded himself or something (some luchador!) and all four men were incapacitated when the first pod opened and Cesaro and Tyson Kidd entered the match.

The BTE immediately blasted their way through both teams with some slick double team moves. Cesaro was like a man possessed, dishing out uppercuts like they were going out of style before sprinting across the ring and leaping to the top rope to superplex Kalisto. Moments later he would catch Kalisto out on the steel and attempt to power bomb him but Kalisto exhibited canny lad abilities and clung onto the chains of the cage, pulling himself free and scrabbling up onto the Prime Time Players' pod.

Los Matadores were the fourth team to enter. El Torito, who'd been maxing and relaxing on top of their pod (because mascots were allowed, according to JBL) launched himself onto Sin Cara as his boys joined the fray. Kalisto busied himself with climbing to the top of the cage to hanging down from the top of the structure before dropping awkwardly onto a gaggle that included everyone except his partner. This was likely designed to be a breath-taking daredevil spot. It was not impressive, although it took some guts and skill to pull off.

El Torito emulated the spot but got caught by The Ascension. Without their mighty bull protecting them Los Matadores were easy pickings for a Fall of Man from The Ascension. Thirty seconds later Sin Cara got one too. Yep, The Ascension got the first and second evictions of the night. Cole tried to highlight this sudden ability to pin people by shrilly telling us that it was the best The Ascension have looked in WWE. He wasn't wrong but all he really accomplished was making it clear how much better they were used in NXT. Good work, Maggle!

The Prime Time Players' pod opened as Konnor and Viktor were hammering Cesaro and Kidd. Amazingly, they were permitted to eliminate the boys from the wasteland with relative ease: Titus grabbed hold of Konnor as Young gave Viktor a gutbuster and pinned him. Just, as Tommy Cooper would have said, like that. The PTPs went on to have possibly their best ever match opposite the BTE. That wasn't a surprise, to be honest. Everyone looks good with Cesaro and Kidd.

Better than that Kings' finish where Hero did a pump kick I reckon.
Reigning champions New Day entered last. All three men were wrestling as payment for having helped Kane out on the previous episode of SmackDown. After a brief spurt of dominance the champions were quadruple (or triple?) suplexed by all four babyface. Cesaro and Kidd shut Xavier Woods back in his pod and then gave Kofi the big swing-drop kick combo. Then d-Young reappeared, rolled Cesaro up and got a pin, giving us New Day versus the Prime Time Players for the match's closing moments.

New Day went into full-on heel mode by sticking Titus's head through the chain wall. Their attempted triple team of Young didn't work out for them though: Young fought free of Big E's grip, knocked Kofi and Xavier off the top rope, and sidestepped a spear from E, sending him careening into a turnbuckle. After freeing Titus the two took it to New Day for a bit before getting overwhelmed by the numbers. Big E flattened Young with a belly-to-belly suplex on the grate then headed back into the ring to chop block Titus as he hoisted Woods up for a fallaway slam. That sent Titus down to a knee, setting him up for Trouble in Paradise from Kingston. That was enough to allow Woods to get the fall and win for his team.

The finish got some well-deserved heat. Although nothing New Day was illegal because all three members had been permitted into the match it was very much positioned as an unfair, unsportsmanlike approach. Thus sort of thing can only help them become more disliked. The only way it could have been better is if it had featured Cesaro and Kidd or the Dragons in place of Young and O'Neil. Both teams are more popular than the PTPs so it would have had more impact. Although I was impressed with how good the Players were made to look considering they've done nothing since they reunited three-plus months ago. It could be argued that the PTPs being the ones to be outsmarted and outgunned by New Day in the closing moments was intended to protect the more popular teams but that seems unlikely to me: Cesaro fell to a flash pin from Darren Young and the Dragons went down to a team they've previously handled pretty easily.

The match was enjoyable. Considering the number of guys involved it could have easily become an omnishambles so we should all be pleased it avoided that. There were no truly memorable moments but it was good fun and a solid advert for tag team wrestling in WWE.

After a recap of Rusev injuring his ankle on SmackDown and Lana wishing Ziggler good luck in the IC title match we got Nikki Bella's Divas championship defence against Paige and Naomi. 'King' kicked things off by openly perving on all three women, making Vince McMahon's (he produces the commentary crew and is insistent on keeping Lawler involved) views on women's wrestling crystal clear.

Spot of the match? Maybe, mate.
This match was not on the level of Banks v Lynch from Unstoppable but that wasn't for lack of trying. Although they only got about six minutes they packed in a lot: a stacked power bomb from the corner;  an inverted hurricanrana from  Naomi; and Naomi breaking up a PTO attempt with a nice super kick being amongst the highlights. Had they had longer it's clear this match would have been great. As it was it was very good. Nikki retained the title after a Rack Attack. Cole talked up her 189 day reign. I assume that means they're going to keep it on her a while yet.

Cena versus Owens was preceded by a nice video recapping their interactions on RAW. The match did the considerable expectations they were facing justice. Owens screamed at Cena and the crowd throughout, successfully making himself the bad guy to the majority. The pace was just as quick as any of Owens' matches against faster foes in NXT and featured all of the spots you'd want and expect. After setting the pace early on Cena was dominated for a few minutes.

Things slipped into high gear when Cena kicked out of a pop-up power bomb. Owens went for a double jump moonsault but Cena avoided it and got the AA. Owens kicked out and, after a yay-boo trade, floored the United States champion with a super kick. He attempted to mock Cena with the Five Knuckle Shuffle but got pulled down into the STF. After he made the ropes Cena went to reapply the hold but Cena took the chance to escape and used Cena's own AA to get a two count.

After selling disbelief Owens turned around into a tornado DDT. That got Cena a two count. So did his never-not-dangerous-looking top rope leg drop. Cena again went for the AA but couldn't get Owens up for it. Big Kev took the chance to drop Cena with a package piledriver into a power bomb. That provided us with another two.

Cena going down clean as a whistle here. What a time to be alive.
The two again traded punches. Owens tried a pop-up power bomb but Cena hit him with a springboard Stunner. With the NXT champ rattled Cena took things to the top rope only to be surprised with a fisherman buster. When that didn't finish Cena off Owens pulled out a Swanton bomb. Cena kicked out of the cover that followed and gave Cena a pair of hard clotheslines. He went for a third but Owens ducked and caught him with a pop-up power bomb for the clean as a sheet victory seconds before the twenty minute mark.

This match set out to accomplish a lot. It wanted to establish Owens as a credible name. It wanted to show Cena can wrestle a highly touted NXT prospect. It wanted to be a great, classic encounter. It accomplished it all. Both guys looked great and Owens got a win over a fifteen time world champion in his main roster debut. WWE couldn't have done better with this match. Owens got the introduction he deserved.

After that we got a match that would have warranted far more praise on practically any other WWE show between 'Don't Call Him Adrian' Neville and Bo Dallas. It did it's job of continuing to build Nev up. He went over with the Red Arrow as everyone knew he would. After that Triple H found Dean Ambrose and Roman Reigns backstage and told Reigns he was barred from ringside for the main event. It had been announced that Reigns would be in Ambrose's corner. Despite this Ambrose just smiled and laughed.

The Intercontinental title Elimination Chamber match kicked off with Dolph Ziggler and King Bad News Wade Barrett I. They went with Barrett giving Ziggler a kicking and Ziggler bumping about. He left him to have a breather on the grate as R-Truth entered the match. Barrett forced him back into his pod and gave him a pounding then went back to Ziggler instead of trying to pin him for whatever reason. This allowed Truth to recover to attack Barrett for a bit. Barrett put him down with Wasteland before returning his attention to 'The Show Off'.

Barrett threw Ziggler into Mark Henry's pod (he was the replacement for Rusev), breaking the plexiglass and allowing Henners to wade into the match. Seconds later Ryback's pod opened and he joined the bout too. Things got a bit messy at that point. Henry clearly wasn't meant to be in the match so early which meant he joined Truth in awkwardly standing about.

The first elimination came when Truth hit the Lie Detector (the name of his finisher this week) on Barrett and pinned him. That King of the Ring victory continues to be massively confusing. The four faces talked amongst themselves and exchanged pinfall attempts. There was a brief alliance against Henry but it didn't last. Ryback would eliminate Truth with a spinebuster. During all of this Sheamus was meant to be in the match but his pod door was "stuck". This was revealed to be a swerve after Ziggler and Ryback wiped one another out during an energetic exchange: he pulled his naff Celtic cross necklace out of the door's hinges and swaggered out.

Sheamus made quick work of Ziggler by tossing him through his pod door. Mark Henry fell to a Brogue kick. Shaymo and Ziggler then had a lively tussle as Ryback lay about at ringside. Ziggler came close to pinning 'Great White' but he would ultimately fall to a Brogue kick. Which left Sheamus and Ryback to have a hoss fight. They gave each other a good pasting , including largely unnecessary White Noise and rolling sentons on the steel grate, and pulled out a good finish: Ryback power bombed Sheamus from the outside of the ring, over the top rope, and then scooped him up for a match-winning Shellshock.

It wasn't as good as the tag team Chamber match nor a classic of its kind but this match was enjoyable for what it was and avoided being an embarrassment. Ryback isn't the greatest wrestler on the roster but he is over. That's what WWE needs at the moment.

Ambrose went on to do a bit of finger-biting.
That left only the main event: WWE champion Seth Rollins defending the title against Dean Ambrose. After a satisfying undercard they had they work cut out for them but as Owens and Cena had earlier on the show they met the expectations they'd been given. After a good but unremarkable first half characterised by interference from J&J and Rollins working over Ambrose the match came alive when Ambrose fired off some jabs and a swift pin exchange sequence was launched. J&J pulled their boy to safety but that wasn't enough to save him from 'The Lunatic Fringe', who was perfectly happy to launch himself out of the ring with a suicide dive.   

Back in the ring Rollins was lamped by the rebound clothesline. The champ tried a backslide with his feet on the ropes but the ref caught him. Ambrose got a rollup for two as Rollins shouted at the referee and then ate a super kick seconds after Rollins had kicked out. They took a tumble to the outside so that Rollins could power bomb Ambrose into the crowd barricade. This would only get Seth a two count so he nailed his springboard knee and an elevated inverted DDT. This also only got him a two count, the perfect excuse for Rollins to bust out his always enjoyable exasperated face.

Rollins trash talked the challenger for a bit and smacked him with elbows until Ambrose avoided one and snuck in a tornado DDT. Rollins escaped Ambrose's rope-hung leg drop. Ambrose sidestepped the springboard knee and got the rebound clothesline. Rollins kicked out at two. Ambrose racked up another near fall with the top rope elbow before taking a suicide dive on the outside and a buckle bomb back in the ring. After taking out J&J and Kane with a top rope dive Ambrose clotheslined went for the elbow dive again. Rollins pulled the referee in to absorb some of the blow. Yeah. They did a ref bump. But it's not the staple it once was so that's okay.

Rollins went for a Pedigree. Mebt use countered, tripping Rollins and see-sawing him into the corner. Rollins landed on the second rope, kicked Ambrose to the mat, and tried for the Phoenix splash. Ambrose rolled away. Rollins in turn landed on his feet only to be spiked with Dirty Deeds. A new referee dashed down to the ring to count the three. Ambrose's music played. He was announced as the new champion. Everything was right with the world.

Two belt thievery angles within months of each other. Shameful.
It didn't last. The original referee kicked off and said Rollins was disqualified for dragging him into the path of the lunatic elbow. Lilian Garcia announced the Dusty finish to boos then J&J, Kane and Rollins rushed the ring and pummelled Ambrose. That brought out Roman Reigns, his music causing Rollins to flee into the aisle where he got KOed by 'The Juggernaut' himself. Reigns and Ambrose then merced all the heels and ran off into the audience with the championship belt. It wasn't a crowd-pleasing title change but it was a move that seemed to please the crowd and send them home on a positive note.

Elimination Chamber was excellent, easily one of the two best main roster shows of the year along with WrestleMania. Anytime a card is favourably compared to a good WrestleMania something's gone right. There wasn't a single bad match here. Rollins v Ambrose and the tag Chamber were both very good and Cena v Owens was a classic encounter. Every match had a reason to be happening and delivered on its build-up. This was, basically, WWE doing everything it could right. If only this happened more often.


Results summary:
New Day retained the tag team championship in the Elimination Chamber
Nikki Bella defeated Paige and Naomi to retain the Divas championship
Kevin Owens defeated John Cena
Adrian Neville defeated Bo Dallas
Ryback won the the Intercontinental championship in the Elimination Chamber
Dean Ambrose defeated Seth Rollins by disqualification

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