Randy Orton def. Daniel Bryan, John Cena, Cesaro, Christian, and Sheamus in the Elimination Chamber to Retain the WWE World Heavyweight Title
While I understand the popular sentiment in online fan reactions and throughout the Target Center in Minneapolis when Orton backed into another title retention, I think the outrage is shortsighted. Bryan had the match won with a running knee to Orton’s face when Kane broke up his pin at two. Bryan fought back and even kicked out of an RKO, but when Kane set him up for a second one, Orton put the match away. More than ever before, Michael Cole sold the injustice of the result and implied that Bryan was the rightful champion. The outcome means that Orton and Batista are slated to face one another at Wrestlemania, but I strongly believe that Bryan will earn his way into that match. He has a good argument that he deserves to be in the main event by virtue of Kane’s interference at the end of the Chamber match, and I suspect that he will have a chance to earn his way into the main event with a win over Kane on Raw in the near future. It seemed implausible to me that Bryan’s long road to the title would end at a secondary PPV, but if the end of Elimination Chamber sets him up to finally reach the top of the mountain at Wrestlemania, it makes the result very pleasing.
Other than the letdown of a finish, the match was one of the most entertaining Chamber matches WWE has ever put together. Sheamus and Cesaro started the match, and were joined in order by Christian, Bryan, Cena, and Orton before anyone was eliminated. The wrestlers all took big bumps on the metal grates outside the ring, including a rolling slam by Sheamus to Cesaro and an inverted DDT by Christian on Sheamus. The first elimination took place when Christian hit a frog splash on Sheamus from the top of one of the pods. Christian went out soon after Bryan hit him with a running knee. Cesaro worked an impressive stretch that culminated with a German suplex to Cena while Bryan was on Cena’s shoulders. Cena rebounded and hit an AA to Cesaro over the ropes and onto the metal, then made him tap out to the STF in the ring. With Cena, Bryan, and Orton remaining, the lights went out in the arena and the Wyatt Family appeared in the locked Chamber. They called back to the end of the Royal Rumble as they attacked Cena. Wyatt hit Sister Abigail’s Kiss, which allowed Orton to get the pin and eliminate Cena. Kane joined several officials to wrangle the Wyatts, but he slipped into the ring when they finally left. From there, he intervened between Orton and Bryan to allow Orton to retain his title. There was no Brock Lesnar, Hulk Hogan, Undertaker, Chris Jericho, Rob Van Dam, HHH, or CM Punk as some suspected, but the presentation allowed younger stars like Cesaro and Bryan to shine and also got plenty of heat on Orton for the main event at Wrestlemania. As long as the title match with Batista does not go down as a straight one-on-one bout, I think it is set up very well.
Wyatt Family def. The Shield
The match with the most anticipation turned out to be the undisputed match of the night. The fans chanted “This is Awesome” before the match even started, and the wrestlers lived up to the hype. In the match’s first big spot, Luke Harper tried a belly-to-back suplex off the top turnbuckle to Seth Rollins, but Rollins flipped and landed on his feet and performed a suicide dive. Harper regained his composure and delivered a huge side slam. The action spilled outside where Wyatt hit a great running senton splash on the floor. Rollins remained in the ring and continued to shine until he finally got a hot tag to Roman Reigns for a big pop. Reigns hit an enormous Samoan drop and an apron dropkick. As the conflict continued outside, Harper somehow performed a very impressive suicide dive and Rollins followed it with an amazing flip over the top. The Spanish announce table was cleared off and lingered ominously for several minutes until Harper and Erick Rowan slammed Rollins through it off of the English announce table. With Dean Ambrose down from Harper’s dive and Rollins through the table, the Wyatts targeted Reigns. He fought his way through them briefly, but Harper hit a big running boot. Reigns powered out of Bray Wyatt’s attempt at Sister Abigail’s Kiss to which Wyatt reacted with utter amazement. He hit a Superman punch on Rowan and Wyatt and set up for a spear on Wyatt. Harper got in the way and took the spear, but Wyatt recovered to hit Sister Abigail’s Kiss and pin Reigns to win. The Wyatts looked great to set up for their upcoming program with Cena. Meanwhile, Rollins and Reigns both looked like stars in spite of the loss and the possibility of an internal Shield feud became even more likely.
Batista def. Alberto Del Rio
Del Rio came to the ring with a neck brace and a crutch and said that he would not be able to compete with Batista. He then attacked Batista with the crutch and revealed that he had his wrestling gear under his street clothes. It was the best part of the match and finally gave Del Rio some inkling of heat in their feud. Alas, the fans were already rightfully disenchanted with Batista and chanted “Boo-tista,” “CM Punk,” “Y2J,” “Boring,” and “Brock Lesnar” as Del Rio worked Batista over. He finally hit a spinebuster, kicked out of Del Rio’s superkick, and delivered the Batista Bomb to win a match that was a uninspired as the feud that led up to it. The match left only two questions- why did Batista go on before the main event, and how will WWE handle its ice cold Royal Rumble winner?
Cameron def. AJ Lee by Disqualification, AJ Retained Divas Title
AJ’s feud with Naomi was sidetracked by Naomi’s broken orbital bone, so she was put into a match with Naomi’s overmatched partner to keep some attention on her. Cameron performed some sloppy offense and AJ mocked her with her pom-poms. Outside the ring, Tamina Snuka tried to help AJ but accidentally superkicked her. Cameron tried to tag advantage with a pin but Tamina broke it up to cause a disqualification. The outcome might set up a split between AJ and Tamina since AJ has run through the rest of the Divas division. Alternately, she could wait for Naomi to get back to finish that angle.
Titus O’Neil def. Darren Young
With a relatively full PPV card, it was likely that at least one match would not get enough time to fully develop and this was that match. Young made both wrestlers look good when he flipped over the turnbuckle to the floor from a big Irish Whip into the corner. Young also hit a nice neckbreaker to O’Neil on the apron. The match ended suddenly when Young came off the ropes into O’Neil’s Clash of the Titus to end the match. What they had time to do was decent, but the match did not answer my question about whether O’Neil has the ability to work an entertaining singles match that lasts longer than a few minutes.
New Age Outlaws def. The Usos to Retain the Tag Team Titles
Road Dogg gave his team an early advantage with a big arm drag on Jey Uso into the turnbuckle. The match moved along slowly until the Usos put together a rally that culminated with an awkward Samoan drop on Billy Gunn. Gunn kicked out after a superkick that looked like it might win the titles for the Usos. Road Dogg distracted the Usos outside and Gunn rolled Jimmy up for a quick pin to escape with the titles. The Usos had a great deal of momentum going into the match, so it seems inevitable that the feud will continue. Like a smaller version of Bryan’s plight, a title win at Wrestlemania would ultimately be a very good payoff for the Usos.
Big E def. Jack Swagger to Retain the Intercontinental Title
The most pleasantly surprising match of the show was the first one of the PPV and saw more fire from both Big E and Swagger than we usually get from either on TV. Zeb Colter cut a great promo on the way to the ring in which he said that Big E has done nothing for the continent of North American since he won the Intercontinental Title and blamed him for the Polar Vortex. Once the match started, Big E moved quickly with an overhead belly-to-belly suplex and a slam into the ring steps. Swagger retaliated with a big clothesline outside the ring and a nice spinebuster back in it. Big E showed his own athleticism as he speared Swagger off of the apron, through the ropes and to the floor. He climbed the ropes, but Swagger met him there and threw him across the ring. Swagger got Big E in the Patriot Lock and he had to use his leg strength to power out. He put the straps of his singlet down, but Swagger put him back in the Patriot Lock. Big E got to his feet and escaped the submission with an enzuigiri, punctuated it with the Big Ending and pinned Swagger in a match that made both wrestlers look very good.
Rhodes Brothers def. Rybaxel
The highlight of the preshow match might have been the appearance of Larry “The Axe” Hennig in the corner of his grandson Curtis Axel. The teams put on a solid match to follow it, as well. Axel hit a powerbomb when Cody Rhodes tried a springboard splash. Rhodes and Axel continued to go at it and Goldust missed a Meathook clothesline as he tried to get involved. Goldust pulled him to the outside to prevent more interference. Axel set up for a neckbreaker, but Rhodes countered into Cross-Rhodes to win the match for his team. Despite a quiet crowd for a Rhodes team that was red hot a few months ago, it was a good way to start the night.