What we took away, what we learned and what the future holds for the superstars of SmackDown Live following the Elimination Chamber pay-per-view on Sunday night.
The road to WrestleMania is all clear for the superstars of SmackDown Live as their final brand-exclusive pay-per-view before the biggest show of the year took place on Sunday night in Phoenix with the resurrection of Elimination Chamber. Now I know how much you want me to break down the epic Mojo Rawley vs. Curt Hawkins match from the kickoff show, but let’s go ahead and jump right in to the action on the main show instead.
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Photo credit: WWE.com
Becky Lynch vs. Mickie James
What we learned: We learned that 37-year-old Mickie James can still bring it on the big stage.
Okay, maybe jerking the curtain at an average pay-per-view isn’t necessarily the big stage, but I think most of us can agree that Mickie and Becky was a decent opener. The two were given a decent amount of time to work, going nearly 12 minutes, and both were able to show why they deserve to be in the title picture moving forward. I liked how the collar and elbow tie-up went all the way to the floor, clearly symbolizing that this was going to be a very even matchup and it was. Mickie turning the tide and working on Becky’s arm was a nice touch, and the veteran showed off some of her aerial maneuvers as well. We also got to see some of that crazy Mickie that we all knew and loved from all those years ago, and I’m hoping that she’s just just here to put over some of these younger talents, which she did on this night as Becky more or less stole a win there at the end. Good match, something we wouldn’t get again for quite a while.
What’s next: If Mickie’s appearance on Talking Smack following the pay-per-view is any indication, then it looks as if this feud might continue on. I thought maybe they were trying to build something with Carmella and Becky following the segment there in the skybox, but that simply turned out to be the first of three dreadful interviews with her and James Ellsworth. Moving on.
What we learned: I think we learned a couple of things here. Creative still has nothing better for Dolph Ziggler to do and the crowd really doesn’t care about Apollo Crews.
Look, I know exactly what they’re trying to do here with Ziggler but perhaps they might want to have him do it against people that the WWE Universe actually give a rip about. And I’m really not trying to insult Crews or Kalisto here because I really do think that they’re both great athletes that are being misused. I still think that Apollo was brought up to the main roster too soon and that he would be thriving in NXT if he were still there, probably in the title picture. And I’ve said it before and will continue to say it until I see it happen: Kalisto needs to get away from SmackDown Live and get himself over to RAW and the cruiserweight division. Period.
As for the match itself, it was actually a one-on-one match for a bit as Ziggler took out Kalisto before it even got started, and his time in the ring with Crews wasn’t completely horrible but it wasn’t really good either. Kalisto expectedly made his way down to the ring but did so with a horrendous limping job that magically went away once he got the hot tag. Thank goodness this whole thing didn’t go on that long. The only real standout from this match was Crews’ enziguri. But the crowd really showed how they felt about Apollo following the match as Ziggler once again attacked his former pals with a chair. We haven’t seen the ankle broken with the chair thing in a while, so that was nice but the chants of “ONE MORE TIME” and “THANK YOU, ZIGGLER” only proved that what they were doing with Crews wasn’t working.
What’s next: Kalisto might go looking for revenge, so we might get yet another one of those matches on Tuesday night. Joy. And maybe this is the perfect time to do something else with Crews. If they go with a kayfabe injury that could keep him out of action for a while, this could be a chance for him to reinvent himself. We’ll see if they actually go that route. As for Ziggler, it’s hard to say where he goes from here. Surely they wouldn’t drag out a feud with Kalisto all the way until WrestleMania and then have those two go at it on the kickoff show, would they? WOULD THEY? I really hope not because what happened here did nothing for anybody and they all just need to get away from one another and start fresh.
Tag Team Turmoil Match for the SmackDown Tag Team Championship
The Ascension vs. Heath Slater & Rhyno vs. The Usos vs. Breezango vs. The Vaudevillains vs. American Alpha (c)
What we learned: I think we learned that the tag team division on Tuesday nights really isn’t going well. And that The Ascension yell a lot.
I liked the idea of Tag Team Turmoil here but I just don’t think it went well. Starting with Heath Slater and Rhyno was at least the right move because they’re one of the only teams that’s actually over with the crowd. Tyler Breeze and Fandango are there merely for the comedy aspect, and while it is funny at times (those boots), it just doesn’t bring any real drama to the match. They rarely get more than five minutes in a match, and that was the case again here. But hey, at least they lasted longer than the Vaudevillains, who just really aren’t working out.
At least the champs looked good in this match, and Jason Jordan is going to be a freaking star when he goes out on his own in a few years. The only real chemistry in this match was when American Alpha and the Usos were in there together. And yes, that does include the beatdown following the elimination. You can just see that they’re comfortable working with one another. Nothing looks forced, and I think these two teams could have put on a great match on their own — but we’ll get back to that in a moment. As for The Ascension, the momentum they had from getting that big win recently is pretty much gone after they couldn’t capitalize on the wounded champs in the final portion of this match. And seriously, they yell A LOT. In the end, American Alpha retained. Pretty average stuff here.
What’s next: The seeds were obviously planted for American Alpha and the Usos to continue their rivalry and will likely lead to a match at WrestleMania, which I think could be very good if they’re given enough time. As for the others, they weren’t given much of an opportunity in this match to shine and don’t see any of them getting a chance to do that at WrestleMania either. They’ll all likely end up in some multi-team match on the pre-show.
What we learned: We learned that this was NOT the payoff for the program, and I also think we learned that Natalya knows how to do the “you can’t see me” hand gesture.
I’ve been a big fan of how this rivalry between Nikki Bella and Natalya has been built up. They’ve brought some real drama into it, and I’ve liked the aggression on both sides. This is some of the best work Nikki has ever done, even better than her reign as Divas champ, and Natalya as a heel has been fantastic. So I was pretty excited to see this match. And then it started.
With two people that seemingly hate each other as much as these two, you would think we’d get more of a fight than a match. But it was just so slow. And yes, I understand that they were trying to have Nikki actually “wrestle” Natalya but it just didn’t come off well. And Nattie just wasn’t helping the pace at all with the “you like Nikki” questions to the crowd and the constant “you can’t see me” gestures. Seriously, I lost track of how many times she did it. Things did pick up near the end with the superplex spot and the brawl on the outside, which obviously led to the double countout finish. That was a bit of a copout, but at least it played more into what this rivalry has been. This should have been much better.
What’s next: Well, we know that this is going to continue for at least one more match following the attack from Nattie in the back, which also gave us a preview of what we’re likely in store for next for Nikki as she slammed into Maryse and caused powder to go everywhere. It looks like the rumors about Nikki and Cena taking on Miz and Maryse may have some real merit to them. Hopefully Nattie can move on from this and get herself in the title picture.
What we learned: If we didn’t know it already, we learned that Luke Harper is the real deal.
After three disappointing matches in a row, I thought we were in line for a fourth at the start of this match. It had a very slow pace at the beginning but really picked up in the second half and turned out to be one of the real highlights of the night. With Orton already being in the WWE Championship match at WrestleMania, the outcome could really only go one way, but there was actually a moment in which I really thought that Harper might pull off the upset. He looked fantastic and proved that he’s so much more than just a midcard guy or a tag team wrestler. He pulled out all the stops in arguably the biggest match of his career and really impressed the crowd with an array of aerial tactics. And those palm strikes look really good.
The action really picked up when they hit the floor for the second time in the bout, with Harper slamming Orton onto the announce table and then taking the snap powerslam on the outside. Good sequence out there. The superplex spot once they were back in the ring was very good, and the near-falls that followed shortly thereafter were excellent. The two superkicks from Harper were perfect and the sitdown powerbomb was very effective. The crowd was really into it at this point, and while the final sequence of the blocked lariat into the RKO didn’t go perfectly, it was good enough to work and was a nice finish to a very good match.
What’s next: It will be very interesting to see how Luke Harper plays into things moving forward. With Orton obviously getting prepped for a showdown with Bray Wyatt, Harper needs to remain in this storyline for at least a little while to maintain the momentum he’s built over the past month or so. He’s got some unfinished business with Bray, and we’ll likely get an encounter at some point over the next seven weeks, which is when we’ll likely see the return of Erick Rowan, who is expected to come back from his rotator cuff injury before WrestleMania. A feud with Rowan and Harper leading into the biggest show of the year could be great.
What we learned: We learned that perhaps Naomi really does belong at the top level of the blue brand’s women’s division.
I’ve never had a problem with Naomi. She’s done what’s been asked of her over the years but I really never thought she would be a serious contender for the title. She proved me and a lot of other people wrong on Sunday night with her performance against Alexa Bliss. Even as the shortest bout of the night, this was easily the best of the three women’s matches on the show (hey, the fact that there were three women’s matches on the main show does say something on its own), and it got going from the start. Alexa is a great heel and used some heel tactics at the start by using Naomi’s own hair against her. She even tied it up in the ropes at one point before Naomi fought back to gain the upper hand, hitting some nice kicks and clotheslines. They went back and forth for a few minutes with some really good near-falls. Alexa’s facial expressions were wonderful, and her tantrum toward the end only adds to her character. In the end, however, Naomi won her first championship with a split-legged moonsault that really got into Bliss’ ribs.
This was a very good match that was followed by one of those great moments in wrestling when things get real. The Phoenix crowd bombarded Naomi with the “YOU DESERVE IT” chant that made the new champ break down in a very cool segment.
What’s next: The talk of Alexa exercising her rematch clause started on Talking Smack, and she was great in making excuses for why she lost, blaming the Arizona sun and being dehydrated and not sleeping for the loss. Naomi came on later and said that she’d be happy to defend her title at any point, and we’ll likely get that match sooner rather than later to leave enough time to build for whatever the WrestleMania program will be for the ladies of SmackDown Live. With a multi-woman match seemingly in the works for the women on RAW, it will be interesting to see if they go the same route.
Elimination Chamber Match for the WWE Championship
Baron Corbin vs. Dean Ambrose vs. AJ Styles vs. Bray Wyatt vs. The Miz vs. John Cena (c)
What we learned: We now know the WWE Championship match for WrestleMania … even if it took the announcing team way too long to figure out that a Bray Wyatt vs. Randy Orton match was possible. Seriously, did you hear how the show went off the air?
As for the new Elimination Chamber, I was a little disappointed that the new structure didn’t have the steel surrounding the ring, but I’m also not the one that has to be thrown onto it so that’s pretty easy for me to criticize, isn’t it? I did like the new look of the chamber. The tension built from the beginning and the entrances actually played a part in it. Bray Wyatt was the winner there too by taking the lantern around to each of the pods. Very cool stuff, and the live crowd was hot for this whole thing.
I thought it was the perfect call to have John Cena and AJ Styles kick things off as these two continue to have amazing chemistry. They went back and forth for a while before Dean Ambrose hit the ring, and we then got a little rematch of the triple threat from a few months back. Cena and Styles didn’t use the chamber as a weapon at all, but I think that’s because they wanted Ambrose to be the first to do it, and he did just that, slamming Cena into the chains and tossing Styles onto the outside before climbing his pod and hitting an elbow on Cena. The double German suplex from Cena a little later on looked great, and Bray Wyatt was in next.
Much like a Royal Rumble match, a new participant usually means a short stretch of running over everyone else in the ring, and that’s what we got with Bray, who got licks in on all three before Styles tossed him to the outside. Very cool seeing AJ and Wyatt get it on. Styles took the most shots in this match but took the most chances as well. He climbed up the chamber with Cena and then got on top of a pod with Ambrose and crashed to the floor on numerous occasions, including the big spot with Ambrose and Bray off the top.
Baron Corbin was out next and got himself a nice little run to start. He beat on Ambrose for a second, slammed Bray into a pod and then hit End Of Days on both Styles and Cena. But that’s about all we’d get from him as he was rolled up by Ambrose as he was trying to get The Miz out of his pod once it was his turn to enter the match. And while a lot of people aren’t liking how this went down, it did exactly what it was supposed to do. Corbin attacked Ambrose and we got a new feud. So we were down to a final four with The Miz, Bray Wyatt, John Cena and AJ Styles.
The Miz played up all the Daniel Bryan stuff (still not sure where this is going) but didn’t last long in this one as he was eliminated after a few minutes by Cena. So Maryse can whine about being powdered by Nikki and Miz can complain about not getting the title because of Cena. See where this is going? But I digress. The final three in this match put on a hell of a show with more great stuff between Cena and Styles, and Bray just playing things perfectly, hitting a beautiful Sister Abigail on Cena to ensure a new champion. While we only got a few minutes of Bray vs. AJ one-on-one, I can’t wait to see more. The finish was perfect, and outside of maybe The Miz, nobody looked really weak in this match.
At long last, Bray Wyatt is WWE Champion. It’s about freaking time.
What’s next: So what comes next for all of these guys? It’s pretty simple for most of them. The Miz and Baron Corbin are all set up for a nice feud for the Intercontinental Championship and should work well. It’s hard to believe that a top guy like Cena and someone as hot as The Miz is right now could be working a mixed tag at WrestleMania, but all signs are pointing in that direction at the moment.
But when does Cena get his rematch for the title? And when does Styles get his one-on-one rematch as well? With rumors going around that they’re building toward Styles taking on Shane McMahon at WrestleMania, Styles getting upset that he’s not being given a fair shake, especially if Cena is given one first, could get that whole thing rolling. I still don’t want to see Styles anywhere near Shane at ‘Mania as I think it would be a huge waste, but we’ll see. At least the next seven weeks of Bray and Orton are going to be fantastic.
Overall, this was a pretty average pay-per-view. The opener was decent but the middle matches really slowed everything down for a while. Once Harper and Orton got it going, things picked up a bit, and Naomi and Alexa kept things moving along right into the main event, which I thought was very good. We should get some great episodes of SmackDown Live leading into WrestleMania.
Keep checking back in with FanSided as we move closer to WWE Fastlane, which is the last pit stop on the road to WrestleMania 33. We’ll have all the coverage you need leading into both. As for Elimination Chamber, what was your favorite match of the night?