WWE Elimination Chamber: Bryan Badly Booked, Batista's Comeback Flops & More
It has been an eventful few weeks for WWE. For a start, the WWE Universe's reaction to the return of Batista must have been a confusing one for everyone in Stamford. His reappearance on Raw after a three and a half year absence before the Royal Rumble led to a huge spike in viewing figures, only for his inevitable triumph in the main event of that pay-per-view to be completely panned by all those in attendance, many of them furious at the lack of Daniel Bryan in the match.
The subsequent lukewarm response to Batista, the almost complete lack of interest in his rushed feud with Alberto Del Rio, not to mention the constant racket at Raws, Smackdowns and live events clamouring for the ascension of Bryan continue to be a problem for WWE. Do WWE risk at Wrestlemania the embarrassment of a world title match of Randy Orton v Batista being booed out of the building even if buyrates are likely to be unaffected by irate attendees?
Then there's CM Punk. The chants may have been relatively low level in his support so far, but they threaten to be a lot louder to say the very least when Raw pitches up in Chicago on March 3rd if WWE are not able to negotiate some kind of agreement with him by then. Oh, and there's that network launch as well.
Even despite these issues, the build-up to Wrestlemania has still been very low key and unsure so far compared to recent years. Even if the return of Hulk Hogan is obviously now much more than just a rumour and reports that Sting could be close to a belated WWE deal are true, they have not really led to anyone pencilling in any matches at their flagship event. There's no lengthy John Cena v The Rock build-up to cling on to this time. No-one seems sure about who The Undertaker is beating this year. Everyone seems to be feeding off crumbs right now.
The Elimination Chamber event, on paper, didn't look as though it was likely to change much on that front either. With at least three, and maybe four, of the matches unlikely to have much bearing on the upper portion of the Wrestlemania card, I was bracing myself for this to be a pay-per-view that left me ruing the three and a half hours of lost sleep that I dedicated to it. Even more so when I see that they have three former world champions, Mark Henry, The Miz and Rey Mysterio, doing that stupid roundtable discussion thing with Josh Matthews. Amazing.
The pre-show kicked off with a match that would have depressed those who have delighted in the remarkable comeback of Goldust and his excellent tag team with younger brother Cody Rhodes, stuck up against the recently stitched together team of Curtis Axel and Ryback just a few months after garnering one of the most popular wins of last year when they beat The Shield at Battleground in a fantastic match.
Nothing much of incident happened in this match except for the miraculous occurrence of Axel getting a chant. I know it's pretty much his home town, but this is Curtis Axel after all - it's still a miracle. The Rhodes brothers picked up a convincing win and Ryback continues to be absolutely dreadful aside from when he's going mental on Twitter and calling people "STOOPID!" in the ring. Just a side-note here - can't they find something better for Renee Young to do than reading out tweets from people? She really is quite splendid.
The main show starts with Zeb Colter cutting a typically marvellous promo where he blames the polar vortex on illegal immigrants. I knew it all along! This leads on to the opener which sees Big E, one of two recent WWE stars to be mysteriously shorn of half his name, defending his Intercontinental Championship against Jack Swagger. To my great surprise, though, this was a cracking match - the best one that Swagger has possibly had for years and one that continues Big E's decent IC title run. Hopefully both will have secured a Wrestlemania spot with that performance.
Bad News Barrett then popped up to mock America's failure to win more gold medals than Russia at the Winter Olympics, but pointedly neglected to mention how many his native country picked up. Good decision! Shortly after that, they confirmed the reports that Hulk Hogan was returning and would be the host of Wrestlemania 30. Odds on Brutus Beefcake getting a Wrestlemania match just dropped from 5000/1 to 6/4.
I think most people have been waiting for all the exposure that the Usos have been getting in the last few months to be killed off sooner rather than later, what with WWE's general disdain for its tag team division. No signs that their momentum will be killed off in this match even though the New Age Outlaws retained the titles in probably the best match they have had since they returned. There was a short and mild CM Punk chant during this match, no sold by the commentary team. After that, Barrett returned to deliver some bad news to Daniel Bryan fans that he would not be winning the WWE World Heavyweight Championship tonight. I believe you, Barrett.
Darren Young and Titus O'Neil, two men who barely seen outside of Superstars, are then out for the continuation of their weak-as-piss feud in a match that should not be on a pay-per-view - or certainly not yet. Young is bloody dreadful and I'm not convinced O'Neil isn't either and the crowd probably agreed, chanting that they wanted Brock Lesnar only a few seconds in. Even so, a shame to see two young wrestlers being crapped in a rare pay-per-view appearance but this match really was not very good at all. O'Neil won clean, nobody cared, and then Barrett came out on his now malfunctioning raising platform to tell people he has more charisma than Hulk Hogan. Interestingly, the mention of Hogan's name did not get a good reception from the crowd. More bad news!
Then it was time for the most anticipated match of year so far - The Wyatt Family versus The Shield. The Wyatts' recovery after a very ropey start has been an unexpected delight, due in part to the remarkable improvement of Luke Harper and Erick Rowan. The constant split rumours and hints surrounding The Shield as well as the stellar performances of Roman Reigns have kept their star shining bright. To the surprise of no-one, this was an absolutely splendid match where everyone was on top form with Harper chucking himself around like a cruiserweight in easily his best performance so far.
The ending of the match was beautifully done with Ambrose and Rollins taken out, leaving Reigns exposed and almost battering his way out of trouble before Wyatt planted him with his Sister Abigail finisher for the Wyatts win. This should have been a Wrestlemania match but hopefully common sense will prevail and they will do a no holds barred rematch or something. Tremendous stuff.
Not so much when it came to the unadvertised AJ Lee vs Cameron Divas Championship match. This was absolutely dreadful. Cameron is so awful that it really is a sad indictment of the pits that the women's division is right now that she gets title shots - and the win here, albeit by a disqualification after Tamina knocked her block off with a clothesline Some tension was teased between AJ and Tamina and if that's setting up a Wrestlemania match between them then I know when I'll be knocking off to make a sandwich during that event. We then got some more Bad News Barrett, and that last match wasn't it. He informed us that the WWE Network was going to lead to mass unemployment and homelessness. This is the best thing he's done since The Nexus. Never take away his gavel.
Batista came out to a surprisingly loud reaction but was left with an even more confused expression than usual when Alberto Del Rio, who I am the biggest fan of out of the five of us that are left that really like him, hobbles out on a crutch. You can probably guess the rest - batters Batista with the crutch, dominates the match, and then loses. The crowd's enthusiasm for Batista completely dissipated when the match started with Del Rio clearly favoured. WWE really does have a problem with this Batista situation. (What the hell has happened to Batista's head as well?)
Then on to the main event Elimination Chamber match. It is probably not a great reflection of the star power that WWE currently possesses that this match is padded out with Christian and Cesaro (as great as he is), but it is usually at least a very good match. The main intrigue for me, however, was in just how annoyed the crowd was going to be when Daniel Bryan didn't win. The answer was 'slightly annoyed'.
Either the WWE Universe has become so used to Daniel Bryan losing and/or being screwed out of winning the title or it just wasn't expecting him to win anyway as the reaction was more a resigned sigh than anything. The match itself was really good with a couple of impressively dangerous spots and Cesaro not looking out of place as the only guy in there never to have won a world title. He was the third eliminated after Sheamus and Christian (who eliminated the former before biting the dust himself) but the main incident in the match involved the Wyatt Family turning up in the chamber and essentially eliminating John Cena. Well that's Cena sorted for Wrestlemania, then, and scuppers my hopes for a Wyatts v Shield rematch. Bugger.
Bryan was then pinned by Orton following a second RKO after being walloped by Kane who was in the chamber to help remove Cena. They did make Bryan look a bit of a berk here by having him attack Kane unprovoked, which I'm not sure was bright booking, and it looks as though Daniel Bryan is possibly getting a Wrestlemania match that none of his fans want to see unless they sort this Kane business out before then.
No appearances by Brock Lesnar or The Undertaker, then, so their plans for 'The Showcase Of The Immortals' remain unclear. Cena is probably getting Bray Wyatt unless he can find a couple of handy tag partners, which would be preferable as Wyatt still looks suspect in singles matches. Bryan might get Kane. Batista v Orton is probably still going ahead as a one-on-one. But no cast iron plans for The Shield, Sheamus or, perhaps more importantly, JTG.
A much better show overall than expected with a couple of surprisingly good matches and only a couple of duds - and even they didn't outstay their welcome. With not much else solved last night, however, it looks as though Raw and Smackdown are going to be busier than usual for the next few weeks.
Follow Steve on Twitter, @oohhangon