Monday, February 24, 2014

Gorilla Position: WWE's Elimination Chamber Pay-Per-View

The final Pay-Per-View before the launch of the WWE Network has come and gone now, another part of history, and what will its legacy be? A showcase of one of the most brutal title defenses witnessed? The clash of two stables that will go down as legends long after they've gone on to be monster solo successes?

Or could it be another tally mark that adds to this record-setting achievement of disappointing endings to a Pay-Per-View this season? The historic WrestleMania looms on the horizon and we're seeing the puzzle pieces fall into place. But what does it mean for everyone who leaves the Elimination Chamber battered, bruised, and broken, even in victory, the winners looked worse for wear. Are we going to be able to count on these guys to deliver at the 30th anniversary of the showcase of the immortals?

I skipped through the pre-show match of the Rhodes Brothers vs. Ryback and Curtis Axel (I refuse to use the stupid mash up of their names because it sounds like an anti-depressant) as well as the throwaway Divas championship defense. I don't buy Cameron or Naomi for an instant. AJ has run out of challengers.
As for Titus O'Neil VS. Darren Young, I may have a minority opinion on this, but I think it had the opposite of the intended effect. O'Neil didn't look like a vicious heel beast. Young looked like an underdog star, who knew how to wear down the big guy. It made Darren look pretty great in this match, despite losing, and O'Neil looked a bit worse for wear by the end.

Jack Swagger with Zeb Colter VS. Big E for the Intercontinental Championship
The IC defense match opens the show proper and it was a hard-hitting match.
Big E (dropping the Langston from his name, though the commentators don't seem to remember that, often referring to him exclusively as Langston) moves really well for a big guy, and Swagger can be impressive, but this lacked a spark. I think the two just didn't find a good enough groove.
Still, I loved the dive through the ropes, with Swagger on the apron. Basically, looked liked a spear to the floor, but that's something new. I would've loved to see what Langston had planned for his top rope maneuver.
That said, a fine opening match, a solid title defense, and two big men having kind of a clunky fight? Par for the course.

The Usos: Jimmy and Jey VS. The New Age Outlaws: Road Dogg Jesse James and Bad Ass Billy Gunn for the World Tag Team Championships
Well, the Outlaws are gonna hold the belts through to WrestleMania, I guess. It's hard to book them as believable champions, though. Goldust and Cody Rhodes, at least in their matches, it looked to be more even. But I don't buy for a second that the aging Road Dogg and Billy Gunn (who, despite what the commentators will have you believe, does in fact look his age AND moves accordingly).
The Usos were spectacularly entertaining and were the reason to watch, and having them come up short was a little disappointing.

The Shield: United States Champion Dean Ambrose, Seth Rollins, and Roman Reigns VS. The Wyatt Family: Luke Harper, Eric Rowan, and Bray Wyatt
This was an epic clash. I was glad they gave the match a lot of time, and it was paced beautifully. Every member of both trios had some strong spots.
It's too bad they fed Rollins to the Wyatts before the Shield mounted their comeback. With the surging popularity of Reigns and Ambrose, it's unfortunate to book Rollins in such a way. But maybe it's because he sells the best of the three. He did have some bright moments though, taking a top rope maneuver and landing on his feet, and a slingshot maneuver off the ropes and landing on his feet, and then the suicide diving senton to Harper on the outside.
I'm truly impressed with how Harper and Rowan manage to distinguish themselves. They are typed similarly, big burly men who are the muscle, the monsters flanking a strange and unorthodox Wyatt. But Harper feels more daredevil, more Mankind in a way. Rowan is a lumbering giant, a masked Kane. Wyatt of course has come into his own and is unsettling and off-putting.
Reigns was a monster in his own right, truly making himself look like a star. Ambrose similarly so, in his own odd style.
The audience loved it all the way through, cheering "This Is Awesome" at nothing more than the staredown at the beginning of the match. The third act went into complete chaos, first with some of the outside maneuvers, then with Rollins double chokeslammed through the Spanish announce table, and Ambrose and Wyatt tumbling over the barricade into the audience. I was hoping there'd be more back-and-forth from the ring (where Reigns and Rowan were trading blows), to the announce area (where Harper could've continued his destruction of Rollins), and then to Wyatt and Ambrose in the arena. But they never returned to Wyatt and Ambrose after the initial tumble, and Rollins stayed down for the remainder.
One of the final images, was Reigns coming to and realizing the tables had turned and the Wyatts had him surrounded, Hounds of Justice style. It was a full-circle moment that gave me goosebumps, and led to a great finishing sequence with Bray himself picking up the victory.
9.5. (Match of the night)

Batista VS. Alberto Del Rio VS. The Patience of the WWE Universe.
Well, for fuck's sake.
Batista came out to the complete hate and vitriol of the audience.
Del Rio came out on a crutch and neck brace, and in sweats. No one was buying that he was actually injured, we knew it was only a matter of time.
What I had expected was for Batista to jump Del Rio anyway, use his crutch on him, and destroy him, and this match would've been over in a few minutes.
What happened instead was Batista bought it, and Del Rio jumped him. He struck him to the point that the crutch was destroyed, he looked like a crafty heel. Which made me realize...THEY'RE STILL TRYING TO MAKE US BUY BATISTA AS A FACE! What in the bloody hell?
Now we all understand why. Batista's back because of Guardians of the Galaxy, wherein he plays a hero. We couldn't possibly have him heel turn now, despite getting the worst crowd reaction he's ever received in his career.
The problem with the booking of it all was that Batista never once put up a fight. He got in his spinebuster before Del Rio turned it around again, and then pulled out a Batista Bomb and a pin and win out of nowhere. It was a travesty.
First of all - the booking of Del Rio to come out and use a cowardly tactic that ultimately did not work is confusing and pointless. Now Del Rio looks weak and Batista looks weak because he fell for it and he never recovered from it.
Second of all - Batista is now about to headline WrestleMania and he has not proven he can even go in a match. For all of Orton's faults, he's a fierce competitor, looks like he hits hard, and be pretty vicious. I worry for Batista. He's not in in-ring shape. Del Rio, a technical wizard and a great worker, would've been a lovely test to carry him through his first real match back and possibly pull out a good match from the Animal.
Instead, we got a convoluted match that amounted to a squash wherein no one looked strong. Arguably, Del Rio looked stronger. We still don't know if Batista can wrestle, he seemed to just barely escape with his win, and he looked like an idiot.
0.5 (The .5 is for the crowd chanting for RVD and Jericho. And also, for the commentators' first onscreen acknowledgement since the championship unification that Jericho was the first Undisputed Champion.)

Cesaro with Zeb Colter VS. Christian VS. Sheamus VS. John Cena VS. Daniel Bryan VS. Randy Orton for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship
Cena was out first. I actually really love Cena. He seems like a great guy and he works hard. He's impressively strong, and that was a great little moment he had with a fan at ringside, giving him his hat and shirt.
Christian second. Is Christian actually talking out loud when he walks out, or is he just mouthing words? And regardless, is he mouthing a real sentence, or is it nonsense? I've wondered for years just who Christian thinks he's talking to when he comes out.
D-Bry. A marvelous reaction for the little guy. It's too bad we all know he's not going to win.
And Orton. The champion has an advantage of not starting the match, but Orton has never won a Chamber match, a fact highlighted several times over the past month, leading me to believe Orton will retain.
Sheamus and Cesaro, open with a hard-hitting brawl. Quite a difference from Michaels and Jericho starting a Chamber match years ago with some great chain wrestling.
Sheamus is another guy I actually love. At RAW, he's managed to turn crowds back in his favor, before they hijack matches he's in, and audiences actually don't seem to mind him much, unlike Orton, Cena, and Batista. Like I said, during his tag match with Christan for instance, he was able to keep the chants for Daniel Bryan or anything else from happening. Only Cena has really managed to do that. It throws off Orton terribly, and Triple H seems unable to improvise around it. 
It felt like a first, with all six men getting into the match before the first elimination.
Bryan took some hard spots, going through two chamber pods over the course of the match.
Cesaro took an AA over the rope onto the steel, though it was padded somewhat by the plexiglass that had fallen off one of the pods Bryan went through.
A third pod was destroyed by a Brogue Kick when Sheamus, (who was booked really strong and dangerous in this match) went after a cowardly Orton who retreated back into his once everyone wanted to gun for him. Also during this moment, Orton weathered crowd chants of "Bullshit!" and "Pussy!" He definitely was not happy about that.
Cesaro had some good spots too, of course the Swing coming in against Orton. (I don't understand how the crowd is counting. They're counting too fast for number of rotations but keep going faster and faster so it's not seconds. It makes no sense.)
To eliminate Sheamus, Christian took a splash off the top of a pod. Christian and Cesaro soon followed. As expected, the Wyatts interfered to help eliminate Cena. And also as expected, Kane interfered to help Orton retain against the remaining Bryan.
The match ended, like so many RAWS and Pay-Per-Views have now, with Bryan on the floor, Orton leaving victorious. But the crowd's reaction was unexpected, so much so, that it felt like a work. It was stunned silence. Whereas at the Royal Rumble, the editing team drowned out the chorus of boos from the crowd for Batista by popping the fireworks and his music, there was nothing to do with the deafening silence of the Elimination Chamber crowd. People were shown in the audience not clapping, not booing, not screaming No, nothing. All their expressions neutral, all their faces blank. "I Hear Voices in My Head" played over what felt like an empty stadium.
There is something worse than heat and even true heat. It is silence.

So where does that leave everyone following the last stop on the road to WrestleMania?
We know Batista and Orton now have a match for the title. But does Bryan somehow get inserted into that picture as a triple threat? Do we see shades of Benoit/Triple H/Michaels, and get another classic, with a great payoff for the underdog in the match?
Or does Bryan head to match with Triple H himself? Booking-wise, it makes no sense, as I feel his main beef would first be with Kane. A Kane VS. Bryan match at WM would be a disappointing showcase at the biggest show for the littlest engine that could.
And what about Lesnar? Does he make a return soon? Does WM dare try another fatal four-way to headline the event, with Lesnar and Bryan being added to Orton/Batista? That's the least likely scenario, but it'd be fun.
Del Rio looks to be done for now. Where he heads is unclear. Christian and Cesaro both had strong showings in the Chamber match. Cesaro heads on to bigger and better things, hopefully separating from Swagger soon, Christian is also unclear. Both are possibilities for Sheamus' dance partner, as he's the only marquee player without much of a match even rumor-wise at WM.
Cena looks cemented for a match against Wyatt which will be an extremely interesting clash of styles and could be a rather off-beat passing of the torch moment if Wyatt goes over.
The Shield look to be stable for a bit longer, and the break-up might happen post-Wrestlemania. I feel like Ambrose's U.S. Championship will be put on the line against Langston's IC belt, further unifying the fringe titles, and strengthening the IC belt. I really wish a Shield break-up wasn't so imminent. Once Ambrose loses his belt to Langston (which I feel will happen if that's the direction they decide to go with the IC belt) then the Shield will be a gimmick by itself and with the Wyatts to feud with now, there feels like much more mileage can be gained from a couple more encounters between the two trios. But maybe not. It was a pretty iconic clash, so maybe WWE should leave it at that, and prepare everyone for Reigns to break out on his own. He's already had quite a destructive season: dominating Survivor Series almost by himself, setting a new elimination record at the Rumble (threw out 12 men by himself) and looked really good in this match at EC against the Wyatts.
Then of course there's the question of The Undertaker, but it looks like he may be facing Lesnar at the big show.
It's all up in the air, and it's all really intriguing.