Roman Reigns kicked things off but, because apparently the end times are upon us, it was cut short in favour of a gauntlet match between all of the competitors in the men’s Elimination Chamber match! Colour me surprised; I literally cannot remember the last time the WWE did a gauntlet match.
Anyway, Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns began the match, with Rollins using his speed and size to not only counter Reigns but also carry him to an interesting match for a change. Rollins counters the Superman Punch into the Turnbuckle Powerbomb, but Reigns totally no-sells it (I bet that burned for Sting) to land the Superman Punch. Eventually, Rollins counters the Spear and rolls Reigns up for a surprise pin fall. Is it just me or is Reigns getting the short end of the stick quite a lot lately, almost as though the WWE are desperately trying to push him as some kind of sympathetic underdog before WrestleMania.
Next up is John Cena! Cena brings the brawling and the ground game to let Rollins get his mojo back. Cena slips into his usual repertoire, trying to sell the match as a big-time main event by landing all his signature stuff only for Rollins to kick out and keep coming. Rollins counters the Avalanche Attitude Adjustment into an AA of his own for a super exciting near fall; Cena answers back by no-selling and rolling through the Phoenix Splash but Rollins lands THE KNEE~!! and the Blackout to finally put away Cena. Again, I do like Cena but his constant attempts to make every match be a WrestleMania main event, no-selling big finishers and allowing everyone and their mother to kick out of his finishers, actually has the opposite effect; after all, if every match and every opponent is special, then surely no one is?
Anyway, Reigns and Cena are small change because next in the match is…Elias. Elias plays it smart, repeatedly trying to pin Rollins in the early going and taking control when Rollins’ knee starts playing him up. Elias takes advantage of that, lands the Drift Away, and…pins Rollins. So…are they playing up that Elias is just getting lucky? Like, would he have been able to beat Rollins had Rollins not faced Reigns and Cena back-to-back and then hurt his knee? I doubt it but, at the same time, given how they’re pushing Elias, I do wonder.
Finn Balor gets his turn, bringing the fight and the aggression right away and forcing Elias to take a powder on the outside. Elias…somehow…takes control and start working Balor over with bland offense, grinding the match to a halt and concentrating on Balor’s arm. Eventually, Balor puts an end to that shit with the jumping stomp, Sling Blade, Shotgun Dropkick, and the Coup de Grâce to get rid of Elias. I just…I don’t see it with Elias; his look isn’t anything to cry about, his ability isn’t exactly exciting. Take away the guitar and what is he?
Anyway, here comes the Miz (with Bo Dallas and Curtis Axel), who also keeps trying to steal a pin fall and adds to Finn’s shoulder troubles. Although Finn rallies his efforts to overcome the pain, the Miz-tourage successfully distract him enough for Miz to land the Skull-Crushing Finale and take out Balor. Balor kind of became a proxy for Rollins here, facing two guys in a row and suffering from limb damage that ultimately helped to do him in. I would have liked to see Balor and Rollins go the distance in the match but it’s better than the alternative…
Because Braun Strowman is up next and he is pissed! Miz tries to run away but Braun just keeps tossing him around like a rag doll. Any time Miz tries to build some momentum, Braun instantly cuts it off; make no mistake, this was nothing but a pulverising squash match until the Miz-tourage distracted Strowman, allowing Miz to hit the Skull-Crushing Finale. Strowman powered out of the pin, though, landed the Running Powerslam, and took the match. This started as a showcase for Rollins and ended in being all about Strowman killing fools, which is always fun. However…couldn’t Strowman have pulverised Elias instead of the Intercontinental Champion? Miz didn’t exactly get a chance to look that competitive, after all (but then that would mean Elias getting to the end of the match). Either way, a really fun, energetic way to not only kick off Raw but also build anticipation for Elimination Chamber.
Asuka claims it’s her destiny to become the Raw Women’s Champion at WrestleMania, so Nia Jax crushes the life out of her; I am glad to see Nia finally show some dominance but she really should be the current champion and have gone on a tear for a few months or so. As much as I life Alexa Bliss, she doesn’t quite seem as good an opponent for Asuka as Nia.
Anyway, the strange and unexpected push of Titus O’Neil and Apollo Crews continued as they took on and defeated Sheamus and Cesaro as a way to hastily and haphazardly sow the seeds for a championship match at Elimination Chamber. That’s all well and good but couldn’t Sheamus and Cesaro fall into the feud between the Revival and the Club? The idea of those three having a prolonged feud over the belts seems far more interesting than randomly pushing Titus Worldwide towards the belts with no build.
Bayley, Sasha Banks, and Mickie James defeated Alexa Bliss, Mandy Rose, and Sonya Deville to end Raw I don’t give a crap about Absolution now that Paige is effectively retired and these constant six-person tag team matches have been done to death so let’s move on.
Annnnnd it’s AJ Styles to open the Blue show this week. He recaps what’s happening at Fastlane (I may have forgotten to mention before, or misunderstood, but AJ has to defend against Kevin Owens, Sami Zayn, Dolph Ziggler, and Baron Corbin). All of those guys take it turns to come out and stake their claim for why they should be the WWE Champion, so Shane McMahon sticks his oar in once again and makes some matches. I really wish that SmackDown! Live would focus more on matches and backstage skits than boring in-ring promos.
Anyway, it’s Kevin Owens taking on Dolph Ziggler first of all. Ziggler seems to be back to is usual, showboating self so…I guess he’s officially a face again now? Anyway, whatever’s motivated Ziggler appears to be enough to allow him to take the advantage throughout the match, landing the Fame-Asser and looking for the Zig-Zag before Sami Zayn distracts Ziggler enough for Owens to pin him after a…a Superkick, of all things. That was kind of a lame finish to an otherwise great match; Ziggler needs to be pushed and encouraged more because he is super great when he’s motivated, especially against a guy like Kevin Owens, whose in-ring game is so top class when he’s not hampered by stupid storylines.
Jinder Mahal tried, and largely failed, to drum up some interest in the United States Championship picture by goading Bobby Roode and Randy Orton. Again, these are poor, poor opponents for Roode. Liv Morgan, Ruby Riott, and Sarah Logan defeated Charlotte Flair, Naomi, and Becky Lynch; what did I just say about six-person tag team matches!?
The New Day took on Shelton Benjamin and Chad Gable to crown a new number one contender for the SmackDown! Live Tag Team Championships; apparently both teams have vaulted over the teased feud between the Usos and the Bludgeon Brothers because why would we ever want to see a new match happen? Anyway, this was a pretty decent back-and-forth match until Shelton and Gable ended up arguing with the referee, allowing Xavier Woods to land the Shining Wizard on Shelton and win the match. Okay, so…I probably would’ve been mad if Shelton and Gable had won as they had built up a load of momentum previously and were pretty decisively defeated so it would’ve been weird to push them again so soon, but haven’t we already seen the New Day vs. the Usos done to death at this point? Could we really not have seen the Bludgeon Brothers get this push?
Speaking of which, rather than building tension with the champions and getting a shot at their belts, Harper and Rowan just squashed some jobbers; I guess they’ll get a push in six months or so?
Whatever, the main event is Baron Corbin against AJ Styles. Glad to see Corbin’s push get restarted; I don’t know why but I have a real soft spot for him and willing to give him a shot. Unlike Jinder, who failed to impress even when matched up against AJ Styles, Corbin looked like an absolutely beast in this match thanks to AJ’s fantastic work rate and ability. It takes two to tango, though, and Corbin’s high impact powers (Deep Six and the End of Days) really make an impact; I swear, he can catch guys out of the air with ease! Anyway, although Corbin used his size and strength, AJ was able to weather the storm, land the Phenomenal Forearm, and took the win. Afterwards, Owens and Zayn attacked but Corbin took them out. It’s interesting to see Corbin move into this face-like role; I’m hoping that this run at the top will help reignite him as a no-nonsense bully and loner for a little longer and course correct him back towards the United States Championship, at least.
Ronda Rousey’s Contract Signing
Okay, not so much a match but, apparently, it’s a big selling point of this pay-per-view. I don’t think the WWE is capable of having a contract signing where something doesn’t get wrecked so, hopefully, this ends up in a brawl between Rousey and Asuka but, honestly, I’d settle for Ronda doing anything except pointing and acting like a self-entitled bitch.
Matt Hardy vs. Bray Wyatt
I’m disappointed to see that there’s no wacked-out gimmick attached to this match, especially since we’ve already seen these two go at it more than once at this point and, to me, the entire reason to have these two feud is to capitalise on how bat-shit crazy they and their gimmicks are. Instead, we get a standard match; perhaps Wyatt’s spooky projection powers will make a comeback, or Jeff Hardy will return to space things up. Either way, I’m picking Bray Wyatt to win to keep this feud alive a little longer for some excitement to be injected into it.
Asuka vs. Nia Jax
The stipulation here is that, if Nia wins, she gets added to the Raw Women’s Championship match at WrestleMania. However, Asuka is undefeated at the moment and I get the idea that the WWE wants to keep that streak alive for after Asuka’s championship win so that Rousey can defeat her. I’m guessing the whole point of this match will be to pit the unstoppable force against the immovable object to help really put Asuka over as this bad-ass threat and really put the championship in jeopardy, so I’ll pick Asuka to win and hope that Nia gets a fair shot later on.
Elimination Chamber Match to Determine the Number One Contender to the Universal Championship: The Miz vs. John Cena vs. Braun Strowman vs. Roman Reigns vs. Seth Rollins vs. Finn Balor vs. Elias
In a vain effort too shake things up and cast doubt over the WrestleMania main event, and no doubt because Samoa Joe and Jason Jordan got injured, this is now a mess of a seven man match, with three men beginning. The whole build up to this match has been less than desirable up until this week, with Finn Balor being unceremoniously beaten by John Cena only to end up in the damn match anyway and Seth Rollins being shoe-horned in there since he’s lost in the shuffle at the moment. I still don’t get why Elias is in this match, or why Apollo Crews got a shot at entering it and it would’ve been nice to see the Miz defending the Intercontinental Championship instead of being in this match to get beaten up but at least he’s in the main event. Don’t be fooled by Braun’s undeniable momentum and the way Roman Reigns has been booked lately, this match is Roman Reigns’ to win. He might take a beating, he might not pin everyone, he might even enter the match early on, but he is obviously winning and you’d be a fool to bet against it. I just hope that Finn, Seth, Miz, and Strowman get decent storylines heading into WrestleMania afterwards and aren’t completely punked out.
Raw Women’s Championship Elimination Chamber Match: Alexa Bliss (c) vs. Bayley vs. Mandy Rose vs. Mickie James vs. Sonya Deville vs. Sasha Banks
Yeah, after Royal Rumble, I’m pretty sure that this match will go on last as it’s historic, Michael! I honestly do not have high hopes for this match; I reckon it’ll be a scarily sloppy clusterfuck with some dead spots, near misses, and Bayley getting shafted. I love Alexa, she’s super cute and perky; despite hardly being a dominant champion, she doesn’t deserve to lose the title so close to WrestleMania but I wouldn’t put it past the WWE to have fucking Sasha Banks beat her to make the WrestleMania match bet Sasha vs. Bayley vs. Asuka vs. Rousey so, screw it, I’ll pick Sasha Banks to win because that’s the kind of stupid shit I expect from the WWE.