2/17/13 Elimination Chamber Review: In with a Bang, Out with a Whimper

After five-sixth of a well-wrestled, interesting, and surprising PPV event, Elimination Chamber took a turn for the awkward and confusing with a main event that seemed to be booked in reverse. Nonetheless, the show was well worth watching and it featured some of the bold, star-making gambles that fans often challenge WWE to make.

The Rock def. CM Punk to retain the WWE Title

Last year’s Wrestlemania match between The Rock and John Cena showed how hard it is for someone who does not regularly work wrestling matches to wrestle for over half an hour. Around the two-hour mark of the Elimination Chamber PPV, WWE started using delay tactics- an impromptu Dolph Ziggler match, a backstage segment with Brodus Clay and Tensai- that pushed the start of the WWE Title mach closer to the end of the show. Even so, the match was wrestled well. Punk and Rock stared each other down at the beginning and looked more like true rivals than they have at any point in their feud so far. Punk controlled the match early with quick offense that seemed to catch Rock off guard. He also tried to get The Rock disqualified (given the stipulation that a DQ would result in a title change) by slapping and spitting on him. The biggest spot of the match came outside the ring when Punk delivered a Rock Bottom on an unforgiving Spanish announce table. Following a series of near falls- including a Rock Bottom that failed to keep Punk down for the three count- referee Mike Chioda took a tumble to the floor from an inadvertent collision with The Rock. CM Punk promptly hit a GTS that downed Rock for the crowd’s eight count. Another referee eventually made his way to the ring, but quickly injured his ankle, preventing another possible pin for Punk. Finally, The Rock hit a clean Rock Bottom, Chioda rolled back in the ring, and Rock got the pin on Punk to retain in a highly questionable fashion.

My ambivalence over the outcome of the match stems from the role-reversal for the two characters. Punk, who has been increasingly delusional while remaining indignant, rightfully earned the victory in the match. The Rock, who is the conquering hero, won a match he should have lost. I do not think The Rock’s popularity or Punk’s heel heat is at stake in one match, but the story the match told was inconsistent with what we know about the characters. The obvious rationale is that the dusty finish gives Punk a way into the Wrestlemania match between Rock and Cena to make it a Triple Threat. We were destined to have that match all along, but a questionable disqualification or Rock winning by nefarious means would have been a better way to get there.

The Shield def. John Cena, Sheamus, and Ryback

In the second biggest surprise of the night, The Shield won its first real wrestling match (following the hardcore TLC match against Ryback and Team Hell No two months ago) against a team of seemingly invincible opponents. The referee never tried to control the match and all six men were in the ring frequently. There was plenty of offense outside the ring and it was often hard to remember who was the legal man. The match ended when Cena and Ryback attempted a simultaneous AA and Shell-Shocked, but Roman Reigns speared and pinned Ryback while he tried to hit the move. I was most surprised that Cena, although strong in defeat, was booked to lose in his last PPV match before “Once in a Lifetime 2” against The Rock at Wrestlemania. Ryback stormed off after the match with another loss to The Shield on his record, and it seems that the next direction of this feud will involve some evolution of the Ryback character. I remain perplexed over The Shield’s role at Wrestlemania since they have proven their dominance in six-man tag matches against the very best competition.

Jack Swagger def. Kane, Daniel Bryan, Mark Henry, Chris Jericho, and Randy Orton in an Elimination Chamber Match to become #1 Contender for the World Heavyweight Title

For the most part, the match went according to the script, but the ending came out of left field. Kane and Bryan’s alliance quickly dissolved and brought them a step closer to a match at Wrestlemania. Henry entered the match last and tore through the entire field with one World’s Strongest Slam after another. Orton perpetuated his angle with Henry by recovering from going through a pod door just in time to hit him with an RKO to knock him out of the match. It came down to Jericho, Orton, and Swagger, and Jericho seemed primed to win the match. Suddenly, Orton blocked his Lionsault and nailed an RKO to eliminate him, and Swagger immediately rolled up Orton to poach the victory and book a spot in the World Heavyweight Title Match at Wrestlemania. The match was fast-paced and thrilling. Jericho worked yet another superb match and Henry maintained his entertaining dominance. Going into the PPV, I speculated that it was too early in Swagger’s new push to elevate him to that level, partially because his borderline-racist Tea Party partnership with Zeb Colter had not even opposed with a non-white character. In retrospect, it should have been clear that the character was basically engineered to feud with Alberto Del Rio, the proud Mexican champion. I think Swagger will generate tons of heat in this angle and I think it has the potential to finally take him to the main event level. He will have to continue his intense behavior and execute in the ring to make it happen.

Alberto Del Rio def. Big Show to retain the World Heavyweight Title

The Del Rio-Big Show match opened the show at a pretty good pace. Del Rio worked a noticeably quicker pace, partially because it fits his face character better than his previously deliberate speed and partially because it is necessary to keep a match against Big Show from dragging. There was big offense from both men early, and it looked like Big Show might tap out to a Cross-Armbreaker just a few minutes into the match. The second time Del Rio applied the Cross-Armbreaker, Big Show used the counter I have been waiting to see- he lifted Del Rio into the air with the hold still applied and dropped him to break it. Finally, Del Rio hit a series of enzuigiris (including one that deflected Ricardo Rodriguez’s confetti bucket into Big Show’s face) and applied a third Cross-Armbreaker that was finally enough to make Big Show tap out. Del Rio has built a good following in the last few months, though he was notably less over in New Orleans, a city with a smaller Latino population. I am enjoying his face run, so I hope he is able to engage fans in his feud with Jack Swagger beyond mere race-baiting.

Other Notes

Dolph Ziggler’s win over Kofi Kingston in an unannounced match was useful to reassert Ziggler while he struggles to find an angle. It seemed like the match was meant to launch a feud between Kingston and Big E Langston. Langston was angry that Kingston jumped out of the ring onto him and delivered a beat down after the match.

Kaitlyn retained the Divas Title against Tamina Snuka in a decent match mostly controlled by Snuka. After Snuka missed a Superfly Splash, Kaitlyn nailed a spear for the win.

Antonio Cesaro retained his U.S. Title by maneuvering himself into a position that made it look like Miz hit him with a low blow. The finish was conniving and clever, plus Miz got some heat back by kicking Cesaro with a real low blow after losing.

Brodus Clay and Tensai continued their ascendance in a once-again deemphasized tag team division with a win over Rhodes Scholars. The dueling giants schtick works for them, and they can play as dominant wrestlers as well as playing for laughs. They might have a longer shelf life than I initially anticipated.