As evidenced by the Elimination Chamber pay-per-view (PPV) last night (Sun., Feb. 19, 2012), WWE has gotten a little ... unorthodox with their card booking as of late. They've experimented with a more "fluid" card in the past, but this is the first time it's gone really wacky, enough to get major attention, including from Geno here in his recap.
At the Elimination Chamber, neither eponymous match was in the main event spot closing the show; instead that honor was handed on a silver platter to a match that I honestly doubt a lot of people were anticipating: John Cena vs. Kane in an Ambulance Match.
Umm ... what?
Can someone honestly tell me why the matches the PPV was named after are playing second banana to a match whose feud as been built about as well as the first little pig's house of straw?
It doesn't make a lot of sense, and I'll tell you why: it really subverts the notion of card order. In other card-based sports like boxing and MMA (and pro wrestling in the earlier days), there was a distinct hierarchy to the booking order.
You open the card with new faces to build interest, run up through the divisions (including some divisional titles) to build up to the main event of the show, usually a major title defense, highly-anticipated grudge match, or once-in-a-lifetime bout. This gave people something to shoot for, as people near the bottom of the card would want to work to move their way up, and people perennially in the upper card could shoot for that one bout that everyone wants to see that would headline a show.
Even given its scripted nature, this still works in pro wrestling because it gives wrestlers incentive to step up their game and get as over as they possibly can. It would also seem to make booking more structured, as bookers can look at their talent and say "you belong here, you go here, you're really good, so I think you're worth a shot near the top; you on the other hand need work, so why don't you start out here with this guy," and so on and so forth.
WWE has thrown this thinking out of the window, and I can't entirely understand why.
The best rationalization I can come up with is that WWE's cards are being arranged according to what they think tells a better storyline. CM Punk's in hot water with management, so he gets stuck going first in the EC that starts the show. Santino Marella is crazy over in Milwaukee but not so much anywhere else, so the Smackdown Chamber match goes somewhere in the middle. And they've put so much effort into Cena's storyline (hard to say that without laughing) that his match gets the final spot.
The problem is that such thinking doesn't always work and, in fact, violates the understood principle of having a match card to begin with. It especially didn't work last night, because with the second Chamber match being an upper-midcard match at best, the show peaked then and stalled out toward the end.
Why was this the case, and why is this thinking flawed? Look again at what I said about the nature of a card. The main event slot is usually reserved for major titles, well-built grudge matches, or once-in-a-lifetime bouts. Cena vs. Kane is none of those. Neither man holds any title, let alone the WWE or world heavyweight championship belts. The feud between them was, at worst, screwed up from the beginning and at best just plain confusing and erratic. Last but not least, this wasn't a once-in-a-lifetime bout, because it's not even the only time Cena and Kane have faced off. Hell, it's not the only time those two have faced off this year. Given those three strikes against the match, there was no reason, according to card order logic, that their match should have been the headliner.
In contrast, let's look forward to WrestleMania 28 and look at the four projected top matches and try to figure out where they should go by card order logic.
John Cena vs. The Rock - Let's be honest here: the extent of the build for this match has been a passing reference here and there by whomever Cena was facing at any given point over the last 10 months, video packages, and a lot of Twitter sniping, so it hasn't been anything to write home about. However, lackluster build-up notwithstanding, this qualifies as a once-in-a-lifetime match, an inter-generational clash we haven't seen since Hulk Hogan vs. Rock (which, by card order logic, should have closed its WrestleMania and didn't). In an ideal world, this would be one of three headlining matches and the show closer. WWE's promotion for WrestleMania 28 seems to be pushing this as the biggest draw of the show, so I would definitely expect this to close the PPV.
CM Punk vs. Chris Jericho - Again, missed opportunities on the build so far, but I have all faith in both Punk and Jericho to kick this into overdrive going into 'Mania. As a top title bout, it automatically deserves co-main status, but the talent involved cements that. Barring any WWE chicanery, I expect this to be the penultimate match.
Daniel Bryan vs. Sheamus - Love D-Bry, but still kinda iffy on Sheamus. Still, these two didn't get their due last year with their match being pushed into dark match territory, and if WWE wants to make amends for that, we'll get to see what we're missing in the third-to-last spot. Also, as a World title match, it deserves to be the third co-main, but unfortunately, I don't think this will be the case. Instead, I think this match will surrender that key spot to ...
Triple H vs. Undertaker III - Brief side note: if this isn't a Last Man Standing match, I will be sorely disappointed. Now, about the match and its placement, I don't think this match deserves a co-main spot. First, having three co-mains is probably the most I'd ever advise, so having four co-mains is out. Second, the build on this feud is good but not great, even with Shawn Michaels getting involved. Finally, this is, again, not their first match together, not even at WrestleMania. If the build was better, maybe I'd excuse it (as in the case of Michaels vs. 'Taker two years before), but it's not really getting me as excited as WWE would probably like. It should be just off the main event, but it won't be; it'll be the third co-main and the world heavyweight championship match will be the odd man out.
Either way, the line up would be theoretically more sound and sensible than Elimination Chamber's. Unfortunately, don't take this suggested line-up as gospel. After all, it seems that as of late, WWE has grown allergic to logic.