Monday, June 1, 2015

Alright, Who Let Dusty in the Writers Room?: WWE Elimination Chamber Review

Kevin Owens is your god now, folks
Photo Credit:
In the TH style. My advice is to watch the show on demand on The Network up through the Kevin Owens/John Cena match and then turn that sucker off.

  • The New Day retained the WWE World Tag Team Championships inside the first-ever Tag Team Elimination Chamber match, lastly eliminating the Prime Time Players with a Kofi Kingston basement Trouble in Paradise to Darren Young.
  • Nikki Bella held onto the WWE Divas Championship in a triple threat match against Naomi and Paige, finishing Naomi with the Rack Attack.
  • In the Champion vs. Champion exhibition match, Kevin Owens defeated John Cena cleanly, in the middle of the ring, with the pop-up powerbomb.
  • Neville took out Bo Dallas with the Red Arrow.
  • Ryback claimed the vacant Intercontinental Championship in the second Chamber match, lastly eliminating Sheamus with the Shellshocked.
  • Dean Ambrose defeated Seth Rollins via disqualification in the main event. Rollins intentionally pulled the referee into the path of an oncoming Ambrose standing elbow. However, the match continued as the original ref was knocked out. Ambrose hit Dirty Deeds and appeared to win via pinfall after a new ref came down to make the count, but the original ref came to in time and called for the DQ. Ambrose left the arena with the title belt in his possession.

General Observations:
  • Lilian Garcia announcing Los Matadores and the Lucha Dragons en Español was a nice touch, but for posterity's sake, her Spanish announcing is nowhere near as hot fire as Melissa Santos'.
  • On the pre-show, New Day petitioned to have all three of its members inserted into the match (my guess is Booker T's mic was muted on the pre-show desk so he didn't cackle "FREEBIRD RULE! FREEBIRD RULE!" during the segment), and much to my delight, all three members piled into the pod and stayed there until they were the last team released.
  • Kalisto's adventures on top of the New Day's pod came off a bit awkward, but I generally liked the interplay between him and both New Day and the Ascension to start. It was also a decent tease into his big spot later on in the match...
  • Even though Cesaro has found a niche on the show as bad-ass tag specialist, he remains woefully underspotlighted for the sheer fact that when he's allowed to go all-out,  he steals the show. His burst out of the pod when he and Tyson Kidd were released into the match injected a ton of energy into the match that the awkward Kalisto stuff on the pod sapped out.
  • Speaking of woefully underspotlighted wrestlers, El Torito blasting off from the top of Los Matadores' pod when they were released into the match and hitting Cesaro with the flying rana was the embodiment of both the FIRE and the KEEP IT 100 emojis.
  • Kalisto pulling the ol' Homicide-in-the-TNA-Monday-Night-debut and actually paying it off with a dive to the fray instead of remaining stuck on top of the cage was one of those moments that the WWE narrative machine is always talking about. Torito following it up with the failed splash that landed him in the Ascension's arms and used as a  human missile against his Matador teammate was even better though.
  • As hot fire as Cesaro was in this match, Titus O'Neil arguably had the standout performance. He owned the cage, especially ramming random guys ad infinitum. He was the MVP of that match for sure.
  • From a pure visual standpoint, the finishing sequence, with Darren Young popping up from his fireman's carry gutbuster right into eating a Trouble in Paradise before getting pinned by all three New Day wrestlers, was the best one of the night. It included the hero "dying" heroically and the bad guys with the true NUMBERS GAME, MAGGLE advantage using that advantage to win, something WWE has usually traditionally sucked at.
  • Lana emoting and being sincere would play off a lot better if she wasn't trying to woo Bad Billy Zabka Cosplayer, Oops, I Mean Dolph Ziggler. In fact, does WWE have any good male romantic leads on the roster?
  • Jerry Lawler and gross commentary go together like lamb and tuna fish, but his announcing during the Divas Championship match took the goddamn cake. Whether it was begging for Nikki Bella and Naomi not to bump against the announce table and instead hop over it onto his lap or him thirst-wishing for the match to go on forever, he was really intolerable. When the horny-ass announcers behind the desk keep treating the female performers like pieces of meat, it's no wonder that they can't gain a goddamn foothold on the main roster.
  • Paige was hilariously out of position to take the Bella enzugiri that turned into an announce table talking point about how badly she whiffed on it. However, to their credit, they all played it off well instead of pretending like they were going to do it again.
  • I'm not necessarily complaining, but is every main roster women's match going to have some kind of tower of DOOM spot?
  • Kevin Owens' reaction to John Cena opening the match with a big shoulder tackle was 24 karat gold. He set the tone early on that he expected to be there and was every bit as good as Cena, and his Mr. Yuck Face impersonation at getting taken down by a shoulder was hilarious and poignant at the same time.
  • Lawler mentioned the match from Northeast Wrestling he had with Owens, as Kevin Steen, before he signed to NXT, which added a lot of depth to his story and credibility to his taking-it-to Cena. If only he was that kind of announcer all the time instead of the sex-crazed thirst-peddler or bad dad joke teller...
  • Owens taking Cena to the woodshed during the early part of the match and shit-talking him with proclamations like "You have something to prove TO ME," and "It's time to give up, John Boy," were some next level tactics.
  • My heart skipped a beat when Owens wrangled Cena up in what looked like a package piledriver. He conformed with WWE's standards and practices on the genre of moves, but at the same time, the package at least appears to the untrained viewer to be a lot "safer" than normal piledrivers. I could be wrong, however.
  • Of all the finishes, I don't think in a million years I ever would have predicted Owens pinning Cena, cleanly, in the middle of the ring with his finisher, but it happened. The after-match promo from Owens combined with that finish is the kind of thing that makes stars in an instant.
  • The Bo Dallas/Neville match was an uncharacteristically flat performance for the main roster version of the latter, but Dallas showed the most promise in the ring that he has probably ever had. His heat segment in the middle, where he was grinding down on Neville, was the best part of that match by far, and I especially thought his use of the ring skirt as a weapon was brilliant. He might matriculate up the card just yet.
  • Rusev's absence from the Intercontinental Championship Elimination Chamber match was announced in the pre-show, and his replacement was none other than Mark Henry. It's always great to see the World's Strongest Man, even if he isn't what he was even in 2013.
  • Ziggler being used as an accidental battering ram to let  Henry out of his pod and to break the INDESTRUCTIBLE LEXAN™ on Sheamus' pod after his release was one of the few bright spots in this match.
  • This Chamber in a microcosm: When Sheamus' pod door got stuck, everyone in the match just sorta stopped and looked around like someone farted. Literally, the entire narrative action stopped because Sheamus didn't get to answer his cue. The women in the Divas' Triple Threat, who get maligned something awful for being "bad" in the ring, showed more fucking ring awareness than the guys in this match, most of whom come with great critical acclaim.
  • Daniel Bryan shouting "Let's hear it for THE RYBACK" and the ensuing lovefest that came afterwards was heartwarming, though. The Chamber event had a LOT of friendship-based plot points, which is weird since WWE's narrative is all about stabbing everyone you come in contact with in the back. Back to the main point, Bryan and Ryback joining forces going forward when/if Bryan comes back wouldn't be the dumbest idea in the world.
  • My first thought at Dean Ambrose coming out of the chute working Seth Rollins' arm was oh hey, he watches Lucha Underground and likes Pentagón, Jr. My second thought was this dude broke his heart a year ago and hasn't stopped waving his dick in Ambrose's face and his first instinct is to WORK THE FUCKING ARM? Nope.
  • Rollins' work as a heel hasn't been scratching the itch, but he could do a whole lot worse than fit as many cool MOVEZ into his heat segments as possible. It's a lot more natural than him trying to control pacing or play the wear-down game.
  • Ambrose showed why his NIGEL/Jawbreaker Lariat is still great to see even with the contrived set-up or overuse last night in a big way. When he connected on that lariat to Rollins, he put the emphasis on the "jawbreaker" portion of the move. That part counts for a whole lot more than the window-dressing set up.
  • When the first decision hit, the immediate comparison that popped into my mind with this iteration of Ambrose as Champion would have been if Steve Austin had defeated the Undertaker for his first WWE Championship at In Your House: A Cold Day in Hell instead of at WrestleMania 14. Sure, the moment was cool, but I don't think that character was ready yet given his recent narrative. But he got a pop. Hoo boy, did he get a pop.
  • Once the original ref popped into the ring holding his head, I knew what the endgame was going to be all along. Honestly, from a narrative standpoint, the Dusty Finish made sense there, but in a business full of shitty bait-and-switch tactics and jerking along crowds for as long as companies like WWE do, it was a tone-deaf call.
  • And of course, Ambrose stole the belt, which made him look like a giant pissbaby instead of a dude who, as Lawler was cackling, would have brought back the Attitude Era. Even worse, he did the same goddamn thing with the Intercontinental Championship in February.
Match of the Night: John Cena vs. Kevin Owens - Many times, the booking of the match can cast a cloud, for better or worse, over the body of the match preceding it. Great finishes can make bad matches seem not so awful after all, and vice versa. But the much-anticipated Cena/Owens tilt was a sublime encounter before Owens put Cena away clean as a whistle, causing a wave of euphoria that had the entire viewership all hot and bothered. The booking of the match was bold and satisfying, mind you, but it was the capstone on a wonderfully built match that would have stood out on any card in which it was located.

The match may have been Owens' best since joining WWE, which is high praise even in his short period of employment. His antagonism drove the action at a high pace, even during spots when it needed to slow down. He embodied the story, which is more important than the nuts and bolts stuff that some consider essential to a "good" match, and even devoid of any contextual storytelling, Owens' work here was tremendous. His strikes and beat-down moves were vicious; he got himself over as a physical threat to Cena almost all by himself, almost being the key word.  His counters, especially the superplex counter off the top into the super fisherman's buster, were on point too. If his goal was to show that his 15 year parallel to Cena outside WWE made him just as good, he showed it better than he ever could have in one of his promotion-best promos.

But to give the credit all to Owens would be to discount the hell of a job Cena put into making the match seem like a struggle and a story rather than one of those "Monster of the Month" tales where he'd pop right up from an insane beatdown and do the whole "Cena wins lol" thing. He took everything Owens had, but instead of popping right up, he showed pathos and struggle, something that he seems to reserve for wrestlers he's serious about putting over, whether they be legit monsters with starpower like Brock Lesnar or The Rock, or guys like Owens and Daniel Bryan.

But the finish was so well timed, and it had both an "out of nowhere" shock to it and a sense of great finality, built from other false finishes and big moves preceding it, putting a cap on the entire match and allowing both wrestlers to remain formidable even with such an emphatic ending to the affair. It was one of WWE's finest matches of the year, even with an excessive amount of no-defense, "boo-yay" crowd-pandering punch trades.

Overall Thoughts: Elimination Chamber usually is one of my favorite events on the calendar, and honestly, if the show had ended after John Cena vs. Kevin Owens, I might have looked more favorably upon it. The Cena/Owens match more than lived up to the hype it presented on paper, and the Tag Team Championship Chamber match, though not without its question marks going in, was the better of the two matches and a worthy inheritor of the gimmick. But once Owens dropped the mic and left, the show went off a damn cliff.

Firstly, the Intercontinental Championship Chamber match was a goddamn disgrace. Yes, R-Truth is not the best worker in the world, and Mark Henry has seemingly lost a step in the last couple of years, but what were the other four guys' excuses? It felt like Wade Barrett was the only one in that match who even tried, and when the highlight is Sheamus jimmying his stuck pod door open with his ornate necklace, then you've gone and fucked up. Up until last night, I thought the Chamber gimmick was turd-proof, but hey, those guys proved me wrong, I suppose. Seriously, how is WWE going to have a calendar year where it basically screwed up two of its three easiest gimmick matches to get quality (the Rumble match was drizzling shits ASIDE from the finish, remember?)? It makes me uneasy for Money in the Bank coming up.

Secondly, the main event, while worked decently by the two principals and the interfering J and J Security, utilized one of the worst mechanisms at advancing a feud and topped it off by rehashing an angle by the same goddamn guy not two months after the first one was resolved. I give points to both Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins here, but the booking did them no favors. I understand why the booking team and Vince McMahon decided to go with a fuck finish here, and in a way, I understand them using Dusty Rhodes' signature bait-and-switch. They wanted to kick the tires on an Ambrose title win without giving him the title, especially in a town like Corpus Christi that didn't exactly have the rep for being Smarksville, USA. If that was the goal, they got the reaction for which they were looking.

But even understanding why, having Ambrose steal the belt afterwards was the laziest writing, and the Dusty Finish itself brings out the greediest, scummiest nature of wrestling promotion. I'm trying my hardest not to unleash because this show was set up from jump to be an interstitial between Payback and Money in the Bank, and having all finality might have been fine in a different manner. But honestly, this show might have been better off billed as "In  Your House: Cena vs. Owens."