There are positives and negatives associated with a mid-card match being a show-stealer and an instant classic. On the positive side, fans will remember the John Cena-Kevin Owens epic for many years. On the negative side, the fans in Corpus Christi were emotionally spent to a degree that almost undermined a very good main event. Altogether, the event will go down as a big success on the strength of Cena-Owens, even if the crowd and the rest of the card were uneven at times.
Dean Ambrose def. Seth Rollins by DQ; Rollins Remains WWE Champion
A fantastic and original pre-match video package set to an Ambrose promo set the stage for an exciting main event. The Authority banned Roman Reigns from ringside and promised an instant disqualification if he got involved, which only made it seem more likely that some Reigns shenanigans were in the pipeline.
Once the match finally started, Ambrose and Rollins let the pace develop methodically. The fans in the audience lagged behind the match, likely due to the emotional expenditure in the Cena-Owens match earlier in the night. The first big moment in the match was a double clothesline that led to a long series of pin attempts by each wrestler. J&J Security pulled Rollisn out of the ring to recover and Ambrose hit a big suicide dive over the announce table.
Back in the ring, Rollins tried a rollup, but the referee caught his feet on the ropes. He followed it with a superkick, but Ambrose answered with a clothesline that sent them both to the floor. Rollins powerbombed Ambrose into the barricade to take control of the match and kept it that way in the ring.
Rollins used a distraction from J&J to cut short a brief rally by Ambrose and hit a buckle bomb, only for Ambrose to rebound from the turnbuckle with a clothesline. Ambrose climbed to the top rope and opted to hit an elbow drop to Kane and J&J Security rather than Rollins. Still in trouble, Rollins puled the referee in front of Ambrose as he delivered another elbow in the ring.
Rollins climbed the ropes and tried a Phoenix Splash, but Ambrose moved out of the way. Ambrose hit Dirty Deeds. He made the cover and a second referee ran to the ring to make the count. Ambrose got the three and the referee declared him the winner. As he celebrated, the original referee regained consciousness and told his replacement that Rollins was disqualified for pulling him in front of Ambrose earlier in the match. Ambrose remained the winner, but his DQ victory allowed Rollins to keep the title.
The Authority encircled Ambrose to get Rollins’s belt back. Roman Reigns ran to the ring to save his friend. He and Ambrose overtook The Authority and Ambrose left with the WWE World Heavyweight Title while Rollins- the technical champ- looked on with rage.
Frustrating as it may be to Ambrose fans, the finish did exactly what it was supposed to do. Ambrose stood tall with a pinfall victory and the title belt. Rollins somehow leaves with heat on top of the nuclear heat he already had in the bank. Ambrose is more popular and more legitimate than ever, and every fan will wait with baited breath to see their next confrontation on Raw and the inevitable rematch.
To put it another way, we all knew the reversed decision was supposed to make us angry, yet it made us angry anyway. Good booking is about manipulating fans’ emotions, and this ending was a supreme manipulation of every fan’s emotions.
Kevin Owens def. John Cena
The only other WWE PPV match to earn an A+ this year was the Brock Lesnar-Seth Rollins-John Cena triple threat from the Royal Rumble. But if there is such a thing as an A+ match, this was it. Owens busted out moves he has not shown since he came to WWE and kept everyone on the edges of their seats. He entered the match as a brash challenger looking up at Cena. He left it, even by the admission of the commentators, as a star on the level of a legend like Cena.
Cena got off to a fast start with a shoulder block, but Owens answered with a bit kick to Cena’s gut and a forearm to ground him. Owens fought out of an early AA attempt with a DDT for a two count. Owens dominated Cena until he gloated too much and Cena rolled him up with a schoolboy. The reenerged Owens responded with punches and a running senton. Cena tried a cross-body, but Owens caught him and turned it into a swinging backbreaker that he followed with a cannonball in the corner.
Owens tried to set up Cena for a pop-up powerbomb and Cena leapfrogged him. He hit a Five Knuckle Shuffle. Owens quickly recovered and hit a pop-up powerbomb for a two count. Owens was in disbelief that Cena became the first wrestler to kick out of the pop-up powerbomb since he came to WWE. He went to the top rope and tried a springboard moonsault, but missed. The mistake allowed Cena to hit an AA that very nearly ended the match.
Owens ducked a punch and hit a superkick- a move he has not tried since debuting in WWE. He tried his own Five Knuckle Shuffle, but took too long and ended up in Cena’s STF. He escaped as Cena tried to drag him from the ropes and hit his own AA for a near fall. Cena went back on offense with a tornado DDT and a top rope leg drop to Owens, both of which earned him near falls.
Owens recovered to tease a package piledriver (his finisher prior to his WWE run) that he turned into a package side slam. Cena avoided another attempt at the pop-up powerbomb and hit a springboard stunner for a two count. With both wrestlers fighting through so many big moves, they both showed the frustration at not being able to finish the match.
Owens blocked Cena’s superplex attempt and hit a creative reverse superplex. He followed it with a top rope senton. Cena tried to stop the rally with a clothesline, but Owens ducked it, and as Cena came off the ropes he hit another pop-up powerbomb to earn the dramatic win. Both wrestlers deserve massive credit for making the winner of the match feel very important no matter which way it ended.
After the match, Owens gave another strong promo in which he said that, “everyone knows who I am now.” He went on to say that Cena’s time is over and that he is taking over. I wrote recently that it was hard to draw up a better debut than Sami Zayn’s great US Title Challenge in front of his home fans in Montreal. WWE took the challenge and created a match that was clearly superior than that stand-out. Owens was a megastar waiting to be released for many years. Now he is simply a megastar.
Ryback Wins the Elimination Chamber to Become Intercontinental Champion
Whether it was the hangover from the Cena-Owens match, a generally quiet crowd, a malfunctioning pod, or a generally uninspired match, match, the semi-main event was a let down. Mark Henry entered a pod first as a replacement for the injured Rusev, and his entrance was possibly the high point of the match.
Dolph Ziggler and King Barrett started the match. After a fast start by Ziggler, Barrett wore him down and started to taunt the wrestlers in the other pods. When R-Truth was releaed, Barrett jumped him immediately and stayed on top of both men. Finally, Barrett hurled Ziggler into Henry’s pod and inadvertently released him early. Henry targeted Barrett and turned the tide on him. A Ziggler superkick led to snake eyes from the just-released Ryback and a lie detector from R-Truth to eliminate Barrett.
Sheamus was set for the final release, but his door would not open. It appeared that the broken door was a mistake and it broke up the momentum of the match in a big way. While the rest of the wrestlers awaited Sheamus, Ryback hit Shell Shocked on R-Truth to eliminate him. He also put Ziggler in a long vertical suplex to burn time while Sheamus tried to free himself.
When Sheamus finally made it into the match, he went back-and-forth with Henry until he hit a Brogue Kick to eliminate him. Ziggler rallied on Sheamus until he got a Brogue Kick of his own and got pinned.
With only Ryback and Sheamus, they fought to the grates outside the ring. Sheamus hit White Noise and a rolling senton on the metal grates. Ryback recovered and hit a powerbomb from outside the ring onto the mat. He entered the ring and hit Shell Shocked to get the surprising pin on Sheamus.
After the win, Daniel Bryan presented the belt to Ryback. They showed respect for one another. Ryback called Bryan an inspiration and the crowd cheered him heartily. Given the work Ryback has put in to elevate himself to being a solid worker, I have no problem with him as Intercontinental Champion. Unfortunately, the disjointed match did not give him the launching pad he deserved.
New Day Wins the Elimination Chamber to Remain Tag Team Champions
It didn’t matter how many times WWE tried to explain the rules, we had to see a tag team Elimination Chamber to see how it would work. Sure enough, there was confusion off the bat with El Torito atop a pod and all three members of New Day in another.
The match got off to an uneven start between the Lucha Dragons and the Ascension. Kalisto got his legs stuck in the chains on top of the New Day pod and they held him in place. Sin Cara kept his team alive with a nice senton off of another pod. Kidd and Cesaro were the next to enter and immediately made their mark when Cesaro superplexed Kalisto from the top of the pod where he was stuck.
The ring got crowded when Los Matadores entered and El Torito joined the action. Undeterred by his prior climbing failure, Kalisto climbed all the way to the top-center of the cageand dropped himself into a crazy splash onto a crowd of opponents. It was a spot everye has always dreamed of seeing in a Chamber, but it came off a bit awkwardly.
El Torito tried to duplicate Kalisto’s move, but the Ascension caught him, threw him into one Matador, and hit the Fall of Man on the other to get the first elimination. Shortly afterward, they hit the Fall of Man on Kalisto and also eliminated the Lucha Dragons. As long as the Lucha Dragons weren’t going to win the match anyway (and they weren’t), it was a good opportunity to get some respectability back for the slumping Ascension.
The Prime Time Players entered next to return the count in the match to three teams. Titus O’Neil ran roughshod on Viktor until Darren Young hit his double-knee gutbuster to pin him and eliminate the Ascension after their nice run. Kidd and Cesaro proceeded to go at it with O’Neil and Young at a rapid pace. Cesaro impressively dropkicked Young while he was perched on the top turnbuckle.
When New Day entered, their three-man team came up against all four of their challengers and they fell victim to a four-on-three suplex. Cesaro and Kidd locked Xavier Woods back in the pod to eliminate the New Day advantage.
With the odds evened up, Cesaro swung Kofi Kingston into a Kidd dropkick. While Cesaro focused on Kingston, Young snuck up behind him and rolled him up for a surprise pin to reduce the match to a New Day-Prime Time Players handicap affair. New Day dominated and trapped O’Neil’s head in the chains. Young eventually hurled Big E into a pod wall and freed his partner to give the team a fighting chance.
O’Neil led a comeback and Young hit another gutbuster on Kingston, but Kingston kicked out at two (Kingston actually grabbed the rope, but realized the referee was not in a position to see it and astutely kicked out to avoid a sloppy non-finish). O’Neil tried to slam Woods, but Big E took out his knee with a chop block and Kingston hit Trouble in Paradise. They all piled on O’Neil and got the pin to retain their titles.
The match looked little like a traditional tag match. It was more of a spectacle than a narrative. Of course, that’s the nature of the Elimination Chamber and we knew all of that going into it. The Ascension regained some modicum of credibility and the Prime Time Players came out looking as dangerous as ever. Most of all, the champions got even more heat and continued their outstanding run. Assuming that Kidd and Cesaro have a new direction that keeps them active, the overall match has to be considered a success.
Daniel Bryan Visited Miz TV
The highlight of the preshow was Miz’s return to host Bryan on his talk show. Miz wore an indescribable hooded frock that earned him as much heat as anything he said. Nonetheless, he lectured Bryan about his need for spray tans and a publicist in a way that worked brilliantly for his heel character. Bryan promoted his forthcoming book and promised to return. He had the crowd in the palm of his hand until he introduced Macho Mandow and Axelmania, who put a beating on Miz.
Macho Mandow is such a disappointing direction for Damian Sandow that it’s hard to watch the character without feeling let down, and that sentiment overwhelmed the end of this introduction. Even so, Miz and Bryan showed good chemistry and Bryan’s appearance got the crowd fired up.
Nikki Bella def. Naomi and Paige to Remain Divas Champion
It would be easy to scapegoat Nikki for the poor Divas Title match, but there was blame to go around. It started off decently enough when Nikki hit an Alabama slam on Paige, but Naomi snuck up for a schoolgirl and a brutal knee strike. It disintegrated from there- Nikki dropkicked blank space (it was unclear whether Paige was supposed to be in place, but one way or the other, Nikki delivered a dropkick with nowhere near her).
Nikki recovered quickly to hit a tower of doom spot. She set up for the Rack Attack on Paige and Naomi hit her with the rear view. Paige locked Nikki in the PTO, only for Naomi to break it up. Naomi took out Paige with a move that was either a botched hurricanrana or a botched something else, but it looked very dangerous and ugly. With Paige on the outside, Nikki hit the Rack Attack on Naomi to thankfully end the match. At a time when the NXT and TNA women have raised the bar for women’s wrestling, this match was a huge black mark on the Nikki Bella title reign.
Neville def. Bo Dallas
Neville and Dallas went on after Cena and Owens and did their jobs of bringing the crowd back to earth before a couple of big matches to follow. Neville hit a bit moonsault to the floor early and got a near fall out of it. Dallas yelled at Neville through the match that he was only trying to help him. They went back and forth at a very slow pace (which is admirable- they did their job for the good of the show even if it didn’t make them look good individually). At last, Neville hit the Red Arrow to get a clean win over his old rival. I was a bit surprised that Neville won so cleanly because I expected to see more between these two over the next few months.