Before we get underway I’d like to point out how much I enjoy the concept of a shorter, Network exclusive wrestling event. The absolute worst thing about Raw is the sheer length of that show. Three hours is frankly painful to watch when the creative minds behind the company don’t have three hours worth of weekly TV in their locker. Sometimes, less is more. Hence why NXT’s one hour weekly show and two hours specials are the best TV the WWE have. That said the Elimination Chamber is a full-on three-hour event. Which means there is a lot of filler. As much as I like Adrian Neville I have no desire to watch him wrestle against Bo Dallas. The highlights on this show’s card are Seth Rollins defending his title against Dean Ambrose and John Cena facing off against Kevin Owens.
We’re in Corpus Christi, Texas. Hosts are Michael Cole, JBL and Jerry Lawler. The big shill is for the two titles being decided in the Chamber. The tag straps and the vacant IC title.
WWE Tag Team Championship
The New Day (c) vs. The Prime Time Players vs. Los Matadores vs. Cesaro & Tyson Kidd vs. The Ascension vs. The Lucha Dragons
The tag division has been at its best recently in spot-heavy contests so it makes good sense to have them in a spotty match. El Torito has gained Giant Gonzalez style attire. He’s actually in the Chamber, on top of Los Matadores’ pod. All of New Day are allowed to participate so there are three of them in their pod. A distinct advantage. Former NXT teams Ascension and Lucha Dragons start. The benefit of an Elimination Chamber match is that there are no tags so the usual wonky tag team ‘breaks down’ stuff is the entire match. It actually makes sense. Jerry Lawler’s jokes are so bad here (claiming claustrophobia is a fear of Santa Claus) that he’s completely ignored by the other commentators. Sin Cara is the first to use the pod for a dive, hitting a Swanton Bomb off there. Kalisto, master of timing, takes way too long to hit his spot thus ruining the count-down to the next entrant. And then New Day stop him anyway. It’s the longest fifteen seconds in the history of wrestling. Cesaro & Kidd are the first team in. Cesaro BOSSES the match with insane uppercuts, including one where he jumps onto the top rope and uppercuts Kalisto on the pod. With the sheer number of bodies out there it’s tough for anyone to get time for a pin or submission. The commentary slides into disaster territory as Lawler calls Cole “JR”, JBL finally makes a reference (rock-climbing) that nobody gets and Kalisto, lunatic that he is, climbs up into the middle of the Chamber. As per usual he takes ages to actually do what he’s trying for. Meanwhile Los Matadores enter the match and Torito decides he’s climbing the Chamber too but is caught and destroyed by the Ascension. Fall on Man on Los Matadores and they’re the first time gone, which makes you wonder why they bothered booking them in the match.
“If I were Kalisto, I’d stop climbing up stuff” – JBL. Fall on Man on Kalisto, after he’s pushed off the top, and that’s another team gone. Using the Chamber has now counted against two teams.
Prime Time Players are in next but the Ascension are waiting for them. Darren Young hits the Gut Check and that dumps Ascension, to little fanfare considering Ascension had two eliminations.
Cesaro continues to boss the match with a wonderfully stiff clothesline that pops JBL and then a dropkick on Young who’s on the top rope, which pops Lawler. If you’re popping former wrestlers you know you’re doing good. Last team in is New Day and all three of them get to compete so despite there being two other teams they get to dominate. New Day get triple suplexed in a total Indy spot. Darren Young catches Cesaro with a cheeky roll up though to dump the best team in the match.
Bit of a dim move from PTP as they’re now at a 3 on 2 disadvantage. Titus starts throwing guys around with no regard to their safety and the crowd slightly bite on PTP. New Day triple team Titus for the win. That’s not a popular outcome in Texas. Good match but only the Lucha Dragons and Cesaro & Kidd really delivered on using the environment. And only the latter brought the kind of entertainment levels I was hoping for.
Final Rating: ***
Video Control gives us some Money in the Bank shills before Cole tells us Rusev has a broken foot from a match on Smackdown against Ryback and won’t be competing tonight. Elsewhere Dolph Ziggler is wished luck by Lana. They’ve managed to wipe out anything about Lana that made her appealing in the first place, in all of three weeks. Remarkable booking.
WWE Divas Championship
Nikki Bella (c) vs. Naomi vs. Paige
No one is allowed at ringside so there’s no Brie, no Tamina. As soon as Paige walks out here my reaction is “switch the belt, switch the belt, switch the belt”. Both challengers lose cool points for singing along to their own entrance music. If you’re going to sing along to entrance music then do it the Jerry Lynn way and sing to your opponents! That only works if their entrance music is “Walk” by Pantera. The early exchanges require pre-planning and look really awkward. The usual three-way selling kicks in after that with Nikki lying down on the floor so the wrestlers can have a decent match. There’s plenty of effort, although not much in the way of execution. Naomi being the exception, landing a killer knee to Nikki’s face. The ambition might outstrip the ability but the rugmunch/superplex spot is actually pretty great and the Rearview to block the Rack Attack is cool. Naomi even busts out a FUCKING REVERSE RANA and Paige lands square on the top of her head. There’s a definite attempt to outshine the NXT girls. Nikki finishes with the Rack Attack in what was probably her best match as champion. She’s clearly pleased with herself and beams after the bell. Although it would have been better if she’d not completely fluffed a flying kick off the top. The match worked because of Paige’s insistence at taking massive bumps. The bump off the reverse rana was ridiculous. Like the rest of the match it wasn’t particularly clean though. Compared to the NXT girls there’s still work to be done. Points for effort though.
Final Rating: **1/2
John Cena vs. Kevin Owens
This is not a match I thought I’d ever see. It’s astonishing to see what the WWE have done with Owens since he signed for them last year. He might not be a main roster guy but he’s already made an impact that’s not been seen in a long, long time. Who else gets to make their first appearance on the main roster by laying out Cena? Having been stunned by the fantastic treatment of Owens I started getting a bit carried away and thought this might even main event the show. Cena is well aware he’s wrestling someone who’s very strong, in terms of in-ring, and deliberately busts his ass to make sure he’s not outclassed. Which is something I’ve always appreciated about Cena. When he’s up against a top wrestler he tries so hard. He might not be the best technician out there but effort goes a long way with me and he always wants to test new guys to see if they’re able to match the hype. One of the great things about Owens is he wants to be the companies best heel. He doesn’t want cheers and everything that’s good about him, as a human being, he uses to make himself seem worse. It’s remarkable character work and he may be the best pure heel the WWE has. Here Owens feeds off the crowd and realises he doesn’t need to do much. He can dominate with punches, clotheslines and chinlocks as long as he dominates. Cena has spent the last couple of months putting people over but here it’s incredibly one-sided. Owens is completely in charge. Not to the level where he demolished Sami Zayn but a long way towards that. I love that Cena escapes the pop up powerbomb because he’s seen it twice and recognises the set up. Owens slips out of the AA into the POP UP POWERBOMB…for two.
Cena has been doing a lot of that lately too. Taking so much abuse it looks like he’s beaten and surviving. Owens makes a mistake, misses the Merosault and the AA…gets two. That was a fantastic sequence. The sheer agility to hit a move that people don’t do, because it’s hard, and make it look easy puts Owens on Cena’s level. Kicking out of the AA is less special than it used to be but it’s still a rub. Owens goes for a mocking Five Knuckle Shuffle and gets caught in the Struggle Snuggle. Owens counters out of that and hits his own AA...for two. Trying to beat Cena with his own moves is awesome. The best thing about Owens bringing it to Cena is that it brings out the level best in Cena. The US champ starts hitting flying DDT’s and diving Rocker Droppers. It’s Cena’s A-game. The one he usually reserves for The Rock or someone really special, which goes to show that’s what Kevin Owens is. Cena even starts to show rare frustration after the Springboard Stunner comes up short. It’s cracking selling from Cena because he never shows emotion like that. That’s why the Bray Wyatt feud worked (for a while). Owens hits Cena with everything, including a ridiculous Olympic Slam off the top and a Swanton Bomb, and even teases the Package Piledriver before hitting a variant slam, but Cena, rather typically, won’t stay down. Recently the WWE has tried to put on epic matches but has failed to understand the concept. However, this match feels epic. POP UP POWERBOMB…FOR THREE! KEVIN OWENS BEAT JOHN CENA CLEAN! Some of the crowd reactions are up there with Brock Lesnar beating Undertaker to end the Streak. That’s the level of shock but make no mistake about it, a star is born here. Owens looked phenomenal and his ambition here got the best out of John Cena. It reminds me of the CM Punk match where Punk wanted to do things too complicated for Cena but forced it through. Here Cena was ready for everything and it worked so well. And Cena lost.
Final Rating: ****1/2
Post Match: Owens grabs the microphone to say his time is now and “the champ is here”, in another bit of sensational Cena thievery. Good God, this was a wonderful moment and great WWE booking. They’ve made themselves a new star. It’s been a while since we got that feeling from the company.
Bo Dallas vs. Neville
This is total filler but the crowd’s reaction is to chant “NXT” because of the last match. Bo has nothing to respond to Neville’s flying and after bailing to avoid the Red Arrow he finds himself hit with a moonsault to the floor. The Bo heat segment is completely unnecessary and allows the commentators to bicker about their factual inaccuracy and JBL ends up calling Cole “an internet troll”. It doesn’t help that Bo has nothing of interest to do and looks like a slob compared to the finely conditioned body of Neville. I never thought I’d see the day where a standing SSP was just a throwaway spot in a WWE match but that’s what Neville brings. I remember the WWE selling John Morrison on being able to do that and that nobody else could. Now it’s just another spot for the fliers. RED ARROW finishes. As I said at the top, it was total filler but Neville nailed everything clean as a whistle here regardless of difficulty. That’s the difference between him doing flippity moves and, say, Kidman. If you can prove you can hit everything clean every time then go for it.
Final Rating: *3/4
Video Control takes us backstage where Triple H meets with Dean Ambrose and Roman Reigns. He believes Roman will be a disruption this evening so if Reigns gets involved Dean gets disqualified.
WWE Intercontinental Championship (Vacant)
Mark Henry vs. Sheamus vs. R-Truth vs. Ryback vs. King Barrett vs. Dolph Ziggler
The title is vacant coming in, thanks to Daniel Bryan’s forfeiture of the belt a few weeks ago. Rusev misses the match with a broken foot and is replaced by Mark Henry. I was pulling for Bray Wyatt but I guess that means Rusev wasn’t winning. Barrett and Ziggler start. They have nine IC titles between them. The match exists in the shadow of Cena vs. Owens and as a result the opening segment is drab, aside from Dolph’s sneaky attempts at roll ups. First man in is R-Truth, who is met by silence. He’s easily the least threatening of the other men and Barrett wastes no time in beating Truth back into his own pod. Barrett makes the mistake of throwing Ziggler into Henry’s pod and it breaks. They need to make that glass stronger. Bulletproof, my ass. Henry’s early entrance means the next man in is Ryback. Barrett takes a series of finishers including Truth’s Lie Detector for the elimination. He probably shouldn’t have talked smack to everyone during the opening segment.
Sheamus is the last man in but his door gets stuck denying him any tactical advantage. Instances where the WWE use their own technical incompetence for a plot point 2015 edition! I love that one. An old classic here at the History of Wrestling offices. Shellshock for Truth. He’s gone. He was out of his depth anyway. Sheamus finally gets in there and hits a Brogue Kick on Henry. That brings it down to three. With Rusev injured, the only three logical winners before we got underway. The crowd helpfully cheer, half-heartedly, for the two babyfaces. That’s a bonus for the booking committee. Ziggler eats yet another Brogue Kick and Sheamus beats Dolph once again.
The crowd are completely behind Ryback now and we will have a new IC champion who’s never held the belt before. The Chamber has hardly played into anything during this match. Sheamus tries, a little bit, by hitting a couple of his moves on the outside but that’s it. Ryback throws Sheamus into the cage wall, powerbombs him into the ring and finishes with Shellshock for his first ever singles strap (bar the OVW title). Shame the match was so underwhelming. Daniel Bryan hops in the ring to give Ryback the rub and the Big Guy grins like an idiot. A nice moment for him.
Final Rating: **
Video Control takes us to the crack commentary team to kill some time. Is the show running short? They show some replays from Kevin Owens victory, which is starting to mean more. Unfortunately they’ve booked a re-match for Money in the Bank only two weeks away. Jesus. Typical WWE. Get something good, do it immediately again. A waste, really. It gives the fans no time to absorb that match. They’ve also named six men for the Money in the Bank match itself; perennial contenders like Dolph Ziggler, Randy Orton, Kofi Kingston and Sheamus but also top dog Roman Reigns and newcomer Neville. Of those Roman is likely, Neville would be the most interesting. It does tend to benefit a heel though. There are more participants to be named.
WWE World Heavyweight Championship
Seth Rollins (c) vs. Dean Ambrose
The shill video for this one is brilliant; it’s narrated by Dean Ambrose, showcasing his verbal skill and the tactics he’s used of late. The push, including arrests and vehicular theft, is reminiscent of Steve Austin and his promos are like a more grounded Brian Pillman. As a character Ambrose is one of the best out there. I’m personally not a massive fan of his in-ring but his personality goes a long way. With Roman Reigns barred from ringside Seth has a major numbers advantage as he’s got Korporate Kane, Joey Mercury and Jamie Noble in his corner. The Austin comparisons continue as JBL disparages Ambrose’s appearance and lack of dress sense. Are they giving it the whole ‘Ambrose isn’t marketable’ play? Because they did the same thing to Steve Austin for two years before being reminded of his drawing power by the fans.
As for the match they do ok, although not really drawing the fans in that much. They even compensate for a mistake with some nice improvisation. I’ve always said the difference between a good wrestler and a great wrestler is dealing with things when they go wrong. The ability to think on your feet. Dean Malenko was the absolute master of it. Their past experience as a team means they know each others moves inside and out so it comes across as smooth and organic. It’s not the most thrilling of contests due to the methodical pacing. It’s not easy to switch from the standard weekly ten minute match to a longer PPV contest. They pick up things with a near falls sequence but it’s not really the Guerrero-Malenko near falls. It’s a far more simplified version. This leads to J & J pulling Seth out and Dean hitting a tope into the announce table. Any move that wipes out Michael Cole’s microphone is ok by me. There’s a greater sense of urgency from there on out. The near falls feel more exciting and the match hits a noticeably higher gear. Seth especially as he lands a couple of killer spots including a running powerbomb into the rail and a flying knee to the face. Ambrose even gets a little Fighting Spirit in there, no selling a powerbomb into the buckles before launching himself into a lariat. When the Authority all get wiped out Seth bumps the ref to save himself. This allows Dean to hit Dirty Deeds but there’s no referee. But then another ref runs in to count the pin! Dean Ambrose is the WWE champion! Holy shit, that was out of left field. I sense a Dusty Finish though as the original ref pops up to reveal it’s a DQ. That’s not a popular decision and generally Dusty Finishes are horrid. The crowd think the same and chant “bullshit” having seen a million ref bumps in big matches that mean nothing. Ambrose then gets a shoeing from the Authority and Roman Reigns runs in for the save.
I’m not really sure how I feel about all this. The record books will show no title win for Ambrose but he feels justified in walking away carrying the belt after scoring a visual pinfall over the champion. The match itself was a bit patchy. A back and forth contest. It was fairly well wrestled but only half the match was exciting, compared to the vibe I got from Owens and Cena, which they maintained throughout. That felt like a main event. Rollins and Ambrose didn’t. Until the latter stages where Ambrose looked as if he was going to win. They can’t carry on treating Rollins like this as champion as it makes him so very useless as a commodity. This coming the same year as his impressive showing at the Royal Rumble with Cena and Lesnar. His booking as champion has taken the sheen off him a bit and a Dusty Finish retention won’t help him at all.
Final Rating: ***1/4
Summary: When Owens pinned Cena it looked for all the world like this was going to be the second best PPV of the year (after Wrestlemania) but the second half didn’t do much for me. The second Chamber match was particularly excruciating. A long, boring match with hardly any memorable moments. The only thing that made it special was Bryan putting Ryback over after the match and that could have been done if he’d won a battle royal. Not the best use of the Elimination Chamber itself. The one match that did deliver was Owens-Cena though and it was fantastic. Lots of hard work, fun spots and it had the feeling of a big-time match. Cena brought his A-game and Owens still won. It should make Owens as a star commodity but there’s already a worry that in two weeks they’ll ruin all this good work with a re-match. Time will tell. Plus Owens has a big money feud with Samoa Joe ready to go. Does he even need Cena after that first win? The feeling is that Cena should be begging for a rematch to prove himself and get turned down again and again. However it plays out Kevin Owens has done extremely well during his first few weeks of interacting with the WWE’s main roster and he has a bright future. It’s about time the WWE brought someone in and treated them like a big deal. The roster needs a shake-up every now and again. Owens is just the guy to do it.