Top-Down Smackdown: Chamber-Made

By Luke Y. Thompson in TV
Monday, February 24, 2014 at 5:00 pm

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Well, since I actually watched a pay-per-view this weekend, you get my PPV reactions today. And you can expect a lot more, since I'll be signing up for WWE network right after I write this. Ending aside - I think pretty much everyone hates the fact that Randy Orton will be main-eventing WrestleMania - I thought this event did a very good job at what WWE needs to be doing, which is building new stars.

Can we start with the elephant in the room: that the name "Elimination Chamber" quite literally describes a toilet? It's no wonder it stinks when you're done. With that said...



...I never, ever thought I'd be as into a Jack Swagger/Big E match as I was. Swagger has always been an underrated in-ring talent who has never settled on an identity as a personality. The current gimmick cannot last - being anti-Mexican is only viable as long as there are a significant number of Mexican wrestlers to fight (if he wanted to join a lucha libre promotion, he could do it forever). WWE creative probably don't have the guts to take the Tea Party-esque persona further, but if they did they could fixate on other things - complain that WWE fans are financially irresponsible just like the government, for example, or insist that textbooks written by Zeb Colter be placed in public schools. It would be funny, and hot-button, but possibly not PG.

As for Big E, he is starting to impress - that leg twist at the end made him look like a Flex-Em bendy figure. Watching the match, I didn't know or care what their storyline issue was - the match itself told a great story. If only they could complement that with more out-of-the-ring charisma, they'd be top stars. Regardless, I imagine their stock went up after kicking off the main show that way.

Oh yeah, there was a pre-show match, wasn't there? Why trot out poor Larry Hennig just to see his grandson get humbled? If he had done something, anything - like maybe slap the kid afterwards for losing - it would have mattered. Instead, he just seemed cast aside.

The Shield/Wyatts issue seems like it may be done after this, but that was a hot match with the crowd wildly into it, making it clear that all three Shield members, and not just Reigns, could make a babyface turn if needed. Not that they should - there are too few top heels as is. Rollins stole the show on this one; Ambrose's disappearance near the end will probably be used to kickstart a split in the group tonight. The Wyatts winning was unexpected, but necessary to build them as a threat to John Cena - logically, if they can beat the unbeatable, they have a chance at the ultimate guy-who-never-loses.

Now, how do you solve a problem like Batista? Or as the fans in attendance chanted, "Boo-tista!" Fans often boo Cena, too, but WWE has too much invested in him as a good guy - to emphasize that point, we even saw him giving his gear to someone who appeared to be a Down's Syndrome kid in the front row. But what is their investment in Batista staying "good"? Does Marvel depend on fans liking him? Does WWE think that he has to be a good guy because he's playing a good guy onscreen? Drax isn't exactly a squeaky clean hero, and most WWE fans differentiate between TV personas and real life.

As for Batista's match itself, it turned out better than expected, which is a testament to Alberto del Rio, who was clearly putting him through the wringer in preparation for the title bout. That Batista appeared to be sucking wind by the end doesn't bode extremely well for the Mania event. For a brief, shining moment it looked like WWE might be preparing to write him out by delivering an injury storyline, but it was not to be.

The Old Age Outlaws cleanly beating the Usos is something I don't understand, but almost certainly has to do with the fact that Road Dogg and Billy Gunn are cast in heel roles that they more or less refuse to play. All they would need to do to make themselves 100% more palatable in the part is have Road Dogg come out and say "Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, children of all...No, you know what? Screw it. You don't deserve to hear the whole thing." But they won't. They're enjoying the nostalgia adulation too much.

The divas match - did they even promote that as part of the show? Will we ever get female competitors who look like genuine athletes? Did I take the de rigeur bathroom break? No, no and yes.

The chamber match itself mostly did as it should: they kept Christian in to fulfill the Shelton Benjamin role of match MVP who will never get any other honors, so let's give him some killer spots. Cesaro - whose name sounds a lot better minus the "Antonio" - got his chance to show he could work with the big boys, and the Sheamus-Orton spot kicking through the "bulletproof" plexiglass was perfectly paced. By rights, this should have been a Daniel Bryan underdog victory, but the Wyatts' mysterious intrusion to blatantly through the match was poorly set up and created a cheap victory for Orton that did nothing for Orton heat-wise. Bryan is presumably headed for a match with Kane, which at least has roots in prior storylines. Orton and Batista was a match we had hoped Brock Lesnar would intervene in somehow, but he never showed. Like last year's Rock-Cena, Orton-Batista is an inevitably boring match with a predictable outcome that I don't want to see. It baffles me that WWE can't see this is the majority position.

I did briefly have a fear that Christian would sustain a storyline injury and be replaced by Hulk Hogan, who would somehow pull out a victory and face Batista. As terrible a match as that would be, I think I'd rather see it than what they're going with.

As always, consider comments below to be a Raw open thread.

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