SmackDown Live kicked off its Road to WrestleMania with its Elimination Chamber pay-per-view last night (Feb. 12, 2017) in Phoenix. WWE Champion John Cena was slated to defend his title against five of the blue brand’s best inside the horrific Chamber. For full results and the live blog from the exceptional Reverend Kain, click here.
His time is now
Bray Wyatt is the new WWE Champion. And he did it in particularly impressive fashion, pinning both John Cena and finally AJ Styles to achieve his dream.
Unsurprisingly, this was the best match on the show.
A few small details were worth noting, but this was such a car crash that the only way to truly experience it is by watching:
- Even though he’s arguably the best wrestler on the planet, AJ Styles is an incredibly giving bumper for his opponents’ offense.
- The Miz waiting for the Chamber door to close—ensuring Baron Corbin couldn’t get back inside after he was rolled up by Dean Ambrose—was so, so perfect.
- The crowd celebrated wildly for Wyatt’s victory, even though he pinned fan favorite Styles—surely WWE will turn him face, right?
- Sure seems like we have an Ambrose-Corbin Intercontinental Championship feud coming.
- Meanwhile, The A Lister’s Mania direction was hinted at in another segment on the show.
Closing the show with a celebratory Bray Wyatt laughing, as a dead-eyed Randy Orton stared at him from the ramp, was a perfect touch. There’s your WrestleMania program, and deservedly so—this is far and away the best story in the company right now. A lot of time is left before Orlando, so hopefully the angle doesn’t sputter any. They certainly have a lot of possible directions to take this angle, and expect the blue brand to get a lot of very appetizing television out of this test of “brothers” going forward.
Given how successful SmackDown has run this program for six months now, it seems unlikely to fade away anytime soon.
The wait was worth it
After nearly eight years in WWE, Naomi has her first taste of championship gold.
And after a match that far exceeded expectations, one can only say: You deserve it.
It’s been clear for months now that SmackDown has treated its women’s division as more an ensemble cast instead of being focused on one person. There are pros and cons to this approach, but it seemed necessitated because it doesn’t really seem to have the type of big match worker present on Raw.
After a series of decent, but far from great, SmackDown pay-per-view women’s championship matches, this sprint was a lot of fun. There seemed far more energy in this match than any other, save the main event. Huge credit goes out to both Naomi and former champion Alexa Bliss for getting the crowd—which had already sat through a long, frequently dull show beforehand—thoroughly invested in the contest.
Naomi especially deserves a ton of credit for her performance. She’s long been criticized (fairly or not), but her game was seriously on last night. She’s always been an underrated babyface promo—she brings an joyful authenticity that sometimes is hard to find—but now that she’s combined that with tighter ring work (and let’s be honest, she’s been quite good since the split) appears to be in the middle of a legitimate breakout.
Interestingly, Bliss displayed far, far better chemistry with Naomi than she ever did with Becky Lynch. She was far more nimble than in her matches with Lynch, and bumped really well for Naomi’s offense.
(She was still quite a ways out of position for the finish, though.)
SmackDown’s women’s division took a big step forward last night.
American Alpha overcame the odds in the Tag Team Turmoil Championship match ... sort of. The finish was clever enough, with Chad Gable evading a clothesline from Konnor on the outside and seamlessly sliding into the ring to hit Grand Amplitude on Viktor, but not a whole lot else made sense in this match.
Why would you have American Alpha say they want to come out first last week, since they’re fighting babyface champions, and then bring them out fifth? Just ... what?
Heath Slater and Rhyno got far more shine in this match than Alpha did, as they came out first and knocked out both Breezango and The Vaudevillains before finally succumbing to The Usos. Then Alpha came out well rested and with only two other teams remaining. That doesn’t exactly make your babyface champions seem particularly heroic—and an attack from The Usos after they were eliminated (which we’ve seen several times before) didn’t add a whole lot, neither.
Furthermore, any match that sets up a spot where the fans are led to believe The Ascension are on the verge of winning the titles—meaning we’re supposed to celebrate when the babyfaces overcome this vaunted hurdle—is a failure. Because The Ascension are not winning the tag team championships. They were geeked out by a series of legends weeks into their call up in late 2014, and haven’t done much since then.
Yay that Alpha retained, but woof. This division is struggling, big time. If nothing else, SmackDown needs to bring out Jason Jordan and Gable’s goofy backstage charm, because their reactions remain far below what they should be.
Meanwhile, the literal best tag team on the planet just waits around in Florida.
“This was pretty good”
Randy Orton vanquished his former Wyatt brother Luke Harper in a decent match. Truthfully, it was a tale of two matches, as the front half lagged considerably, but the closing few minutes were a ball of fire, with bomb after bomb traded. Harper continues to be an underrated asset, and even got some “Let’s Go Harper” chants against Orton—not an easy feat to accomplish.
There was only one result here, because as enticing a Wyatt triple threat would have been at Mania, Luke Harper isn’t presented in that top echelon. Where he fits into the Wyatt storyline going forward will be extremely interesting to follow—as will be the crowd’s respective reactions to Wyatt and Orton. Neither wrestler is ever really booed, and the alignments could honestly go either way.
If this angle ends with face Randy Orton beating heel Bray Wyatt at WrestleMania, it will be a huge disappointment. There are potential bags of money to be made with face Wyatt, and his heel character is deader than dead.
Hopefully Harper will help Wyatt see the error of his ways, before it’s too late.
Setting the table
Becky Lynch snuck a victory over Mickie James with a counter into a jacknife pinning combination. Weirdly, this turned out to be a better version of the Nikki Bella and Natalya match, but the technical aspect of Lynch-James actually makes sense. (The heated tie-up in the beginning which neither wanted to break—and thus display weakness—was a really smart story note.)
This was a really well structured opening match, and the beloved babyface winning put the crowd in a good mood to start. Moreover, it seemed apparent that the pair could raise their games a few extra gears—which will certainly be required headed into WrestleMania season.
This was a thoroughly entertaining opening contest. (It is worth noting how often women open pay-per-view shows in the last few years. Aside from the main event, it’s the most important spot on the card.)
This was a pretty decent wrestling match, and Nikki Bella displayed really strong technical chops—frankly, she thoroughly outwrestled Natalya. Nikki’s STF continues to be hilariously better than John Cena’s.
But a “pretty decent wrestling match” is something that nobody wanted from this contest.
It is beyond puzzling that Nikki takes superplexes with a surgically repaired neck instead of the match simply being laid out as a heated brawl. Then it ended in a double count out (to be fair, it’s clearly too much to ask for the hometown wrestler to win—though at least she didn’t lose), which took the sails out of everyone. Then Nikki speared Natalya to death on the ramp, which was awesome.
As a whole ... this was confusing.
But the even bigger problem is that this has been built as a super personal blood feud with words, and especially with a series of free-for-all backstage brawls—and then the match played entirely against type as a mostly technical affair. Out of context, it was a decent enough match.
In context, it can only be viewed as a tremendous disappointment. It should have been so much more. Even if WWE didn’t want to give a definitive finish, and instead build to a possible Last Woman Standing match, there are certainly better ways to do it.
If you’re going to do a double count out spot, at least make it because they’re beating the hell out of each other and don’t want to stop to get back into the ring—not because both are trying to get back in the ring and just simply don’t.
It should be noted that there was another incident backstage after the match, when Natalya again ambushed Nikki. During the melee, Maryse—who was in the area for makeup treatment—got white powder all over her nice black dress. Surely she’ll have some words (and slaps!) for whoever she blames for that incident.
Even more wrong
The handicap match in which the heel was against the odds delivered about as expected.
Read that again: “The handicap match in which the heel was against the odds...”
It was a clever piece of booking to take out Kalisto before the match—doing so would hopefully get heat on Dolph Ziggler (it didn’t really) and make Apollo Crews look stronger in victory. Then Kalisto came down to the ring toward the end of the match (with the match leading up to that a thrilling headlock sequence), actually came into the match after selling a broken back all the way down the ramp and got in some flippy offense, and eventually the babyfaces beat the heel 2-on-1.
Furthermore, you would think that there’d be recognition by now that the crowd pops for Ziggler’s chair attacks, and there’d be a spot where he faked a chair attack, instead berated the crowd (“Why would I give you what you want now? You didn’t cheer for me before” yada yada) and walked off. But no, they just went through with the assault, which means we got to see Apollo Crews’ ankle mangled with a chair assault—and the crowd cheered for it.
None of this was good in any way, shape, or form.
All the rest
Mojo Rawley beat Curt Hawkins on the pre-show. In NXT, the one who is hyped never showed a whole lot as a singles competitor, but since Zack Ryder’s injury, he has been a decent hand on his own.
Carmellsworth was a featured player throughout the night, first with Carmella’s wonderful dismissiveness on the pre-show panel, and then throughout the night as Dasha Fuentes checked in with the pair in their skybox seats.
James Ellsworth buying skybox seats even though they work for WWE is such a good bit. Is it hugely important? Not really. But it makes the SmackDown world richer and more lived-in. so thumbs up for this running gag.
If nothing else, Elimination Chamber reminded everyone of the importance of a good main event. If the final match is great, it makes earlier flaws in the show seem less important. If the final match is mediocre, it makes flaws stand out more.
For that reason, Elimination Chamber can be broken into two grades. One for the main event, and one for everything else. It equaled a thoroughly average show (weighted just above because of the last match’s importance) that was totally saved by a great main event, and hot closing angle.
Elimination Chamber match: 60
Everything else: 40