Features

Eliminating The Obvious Before WWE Royal Rumble by Matt Corton

Elimination Chamber is great. It’s always been one of my favourite matches so I was really pleased when I heard WWE was reviving it for the SmackDown brand. Partly because I think the SmackDown brand will benefit more from having the PPV than Raw, but more because I think the event itself will benefit from having just one Elimination Chamber match rather than two.

One of the reasons the Elimination Chamber as a PPV fell flat is the same reason the Hell in a Cell PPV often falls flat – it should be a major, one-off match that is one of the highlights of the year…not one of the two highlights of a show. When you’ve seen one Elimination Chamber match in a night you’ve seen them all, just as with Hell in a Cell – I don’t need to see three of those on one PPV as with 2016.

I generally like gimmick PPVs because they offer something different – we now see some great wrestling pretty much every week on either Raw, SmackDown, or both – so PPVs aren’t as unique for the great matches as they once, frankly, were. What you don’t see on Raw very often is Hell in a Cell, Elimination Chamber, Extreme Rules, TLC, or any of those.

What I think is the WWE’s Achilles heel with gimmick PPVs though, is the fact they are rare showcases doesn’t mean WWE needs to fill every match of those PPVs with those gimmick matches – that’s building storylines around aspects of shows and that’s partly what leads to such throwaway stories and forgettable matches. The only match that should have been in Hell in a Cell in 2016 was Charlotte vs. Sasha Banks, and it should have ended their rivalry, because that’s what Hell in a Cell is for. The other two matches wouldn’t have lost anything for not having been in the cell.

It’s fantastic the Chamber is happening for just the one brand having just one match. If they do it right, it will also make a lot of sense for the multi-man match to happen.

Despite my enthusiasm, I’m a little conflicted. If you had six guys who were all vying with each other and had been for months, culminating in the ‘final answer’ of an Elimination Chamber match to see who was best, then great. If you had an Elimination Chamber made up only of guys who had never won the ‘big one’ (other than the champ) as has happened before, then that adds a different vibe to the match and teases a new champ who’s never been champ before and that’s great.

They’re trying. They really are – Miz, Corbin, Ziggler, Styles, Ambrose and Cena (my picks for the match, as the Wyatts will be occupied elsewhere) have all interacted with each other in the past few weeks so they will all look like they belong in that match and that they belong against each other. There’s continuity and common sense to it, which is great. And if Miz is in the match, as it looked like this week, then Ambrose definitely will be as well, because he won’t have anything else to do. I know the IC title needs to be defended, but it wouldn’t be the first time a title hasn’t been defended on a PPV, particularly one which is going to have a very long main event.

I’m just not buying the build at the moment. Sure, they’re all crossing each other’s paths in the lead up to this, but those paths are very much parallel rather than interconnecting. Styles is feuding with Cena, despite anyone else being involved. Miz is feuding with Ambrose, despite anyone else being involved. Corbin is feuding with the entire roster it seems (which I love) and Ziggler is about to embark on something I hope is pretty big for him, because he needs it. I thought that was all about building for the Rumble – and perhaps it is because the Rumble will further those parallel feuds, but so will Elimination Chamber. Both the Rumble and the Chamber become a stop-gap on the way to those feuds being resolved, which I think is a shame. It’s a fitting blow-off for Cena and Styles, if indeed it is, but it’s too obvious that those two will be the final two. It’s too obvious that one of those two is walking out champion.

That’s why the match would actually be better made up of stars who had never won the title before once again. It gives you that idea in the back of your mind that they just might do something crazy and put the title on someone new. It’s what we all love about some of the Money In The Bank winners and it’s what we all love about the unexpected title match for the underdog – there’s a chance.

I don’t think there’s much of a chance here – whilst the guys in that match will put on a great match and that will make a lot of people very happy, this will just be the Styles and Cena show and again, that’s great, but it doesn’t need the Elimination Chamber.

So my first little concern is this isn’t going to be the end of anything when it should be. If Cena wins the title from Styles at the Rumble, it would give Styles his rematch at Elimination Chamber, where he’ll be screwed out of the title by someone, leading to his ‘Mania match up. If Styles wins against Cena at Rumble and Cena wins at Chamber, then Styles is due a rematch and I think that’s one match too many.

It would though, make sense. Cena is going to equal, and then beat, Flair’s record, I think we just need to accept that at this point. In addition to that, Miz, Ambrose and Corbin’s rivalry with Styles will distract them from the big prize making it easier for Cena to retain.

None of that sets me on fire like a really big gimmick match should – like the six man Hell in a Cell all those years ago, or the Chamber with no previous champs. It stops the match being a moment.

There’s a second, bigger, problem though that I think WWE needs to start being really careful of because it’s happened a little too often recently – and that’s foreshadowing.

Ambrose, Miz, Corbin and Ziggler are all confirmed for the Royal Rumble, where they will try and win a title shot at Wrestlemania.

So already, after SmackDown, I now know nobody from Smackdown is going to win the Rumble.

Sure, they could make a nonsense play out of it, say if one of the potential Chamber participants wins the title at the Chamber early, they won’t need their title shot, but really we all know the winner of the Rumble gets a title shot at ‘Mania and that’s not likely to be someone who’s likely to be put in a multi-man title match just a few weeks later.

Could I be wrong about the Wyatts? Could one or more of them be involved in the Chamber and one of the others win the Rumble, watching the Chamber from the sidelines? It’s possible, but I don’t think it’s likely because I think they’re involved in their own little microcosm. Rather than go down that road, I can see much more clearly the winner of the Rumble being a Raw wrestler.

Now that doesn’t mean for a second that the Rumble is lessened for this, because there’s still a glut of potential winners in Undertaker, Strowman, Lesnar, Goldberg, Rollins, Reigns and Jericho.

That’s absolutely fantastic. It’s been so predictable in the past few years that it has detracted somewhat from the match, much as I’ve still loved it. To not know – really not know – who is going to win, with so many options available to each of the winners that would make perfect sense, that you have to say despite the show being weaker, Raw has done the better job of building to the Rumble and I think the fact that Shane chose to focus on the Chamber this week rather than the upcoming Rumble just confirms it even further – the winner of the Rumble is coming from Raw and that’s no bad thing.

I kind of just wish I didn’t know quite yet and there’s really one big lesson to learn from this for WWE. You don’t need this many PPVs. You don’t need another PPV two weeks after the Rumble. You don’t need to be announcing matches, or potential matches to another PPV in the lead up to one of your biggest PPVs. I think it’s stupid to take the attention away from SmackDown’s chances in the Rumble in such an obvious way after Raw spent so long the night before focusing on it.

Now I’m only guessing, here. I don’t know all of the participants in the Chamber match, it’s just I can’t think of anyone else they can put in the match who is not engaged elsewhere that would make any sense. I could be completely and utterly wrong, and in a lot of ways I hope I am, because if it was up to me, I’d have someone come back completely out of the blue to win the Rumble once again and my vote would go to a heel Bully Ray – coming back without being advertised. A true surprise, a true moment.

What do you guys think?