I love how WWE decides that they absolutely MUST keep the stupid "Fastlane" PPV name because they love the "Road to WrestleMania" branding so much that they decide that they MUST have a PPV that somehow fits into the metaphor, and yet when they added a second PPV for their second brand they didn't follow suit with some sort of road-related name, but instead they just kept the pointless Elimination Chamber gimmick PPV. I have given up trying to understand WWE's logic with these things. Down that path lies only madness.
CURT HAWKINS vs. MOJO RAWLEY -
I sh*t you not that just as the bell rang to start off this match my smoke detector went off due to the steak I was cooking (my oven is terrible). I decided to take this as a sign from G-d that I should skip this match. Someone let me know if anything that actually matters happened.
Booker T referred to both Roman Reigns vs. Braun Strowman and Goldberg vs. Kevin Owens as a "dream match." Booker has some abnormal dreams.
BECKY LYNCH vs. MICKIE JAMES - 6/10
Good opener. Becky wins by roll-up. It will be interesting to see where they go for WrestleMania, as this seems intended to keep this feud alive and thus set up a three (or more) way match for the title at Mania, which probably wouldn't be the best idea simply because that's what Raw is doing.
Is JBL TRYING to get fired tonight? First he buried the whole La Luchadora unmasking as being the sort of thing you'd see on Scooby Doo. Then, in response to David Otunga diplomatically stating that Mickie hasn't been competing "every night" like Becky has- a statement which does a fine job of walking the WWE party line of not acknowledging any competition that they don't want acknowledged while still leaving room for those who know the truth to not get angry because it's technically a true statement and makes sense within the feud- JBL goes out of his way to say that Otunga is wrong and that Mickie has been competing other places.
DASHA INTERVIEWS ELLSWORTH AND CARMELLA IN THEIR SKYBOX - I guess the point of this was that Ellsworth was agreeing with Carmella's opinion, but Carmella saying that "the wrong woman won" doesn't really seem so outrageous because of how much Mickie dominated the match.
Apollo Crews & Kalisto vs. Dolph Ziggler - 4/10
Ziggler jumped Kalisto during his entrance and threw him into the LED display once, which has apparently put him out for a while. Dolph and Crews then had a singles match that Dolph was winning pretty fairly until Kalisto came back out and Crews managed to make a hot tag and then Dolph got beat by two dudes. All this match did was make Crews look bad.
Mauro was just plain wacky in this match. In between being normal, awesome Mauro he said things like Ziggler was "attacking that leg like it's filled with candy" and that Dolph's use of steel chairs shows that he "wants to be the chair-man of Smackdown."
POST-MATCH SEGMENT- didn't like it at all. Dolph attacks the babyfaces after his loss, using a chair. Yeah, I know he Pillmanizered Crews' ankle this time instead of hitting these guys in the back with the chair, but it still feels like we've just gone right back to square one. Meanwhile, NO ONE comes out to help Apollo. I guess Kalisto is his only friend. That seems odd for a guy who is basically just your standard smiley babyface. Meanwhile, the fans chant "thank you Ziggler!" which shows you how much WWE has failed with Apollo Crews. This is what happens when you bring someone into a promotion without a firm plan in place.
TAG TEAM TURMOIL MATCH FOR THE WWE SMACKDOWN TAG TEAM TITLES:
Tyler Breeze & Fandango vs. Heath Slater & Rhyno vs. The Vaudevillains vs. The Usos vs. American Alpha(c) vs. The Ascension - 4.5/10
I am someone who has always argued against this idea that something being unpredictable automatically makes it good and being predictable is somehow an automatic negative (and I still support that statement), but this was one of those matches that was so predictable it was frustrating. That doesn't mean that parts of it weren't good even though they were predicable. I certainly popped when Gable made the save after The Ascension hit Gable with the Fall of Man, but most of the rest of this match was annoying because even though we haven't seen it before it felt like we already had (which was only made worse by JBL doing the clichéd heel commentator route of constantly changing his pick based on who was winning and claiming he had supported that team from the beginning). You knew exactly what was going to happen the moment each team came out, and you knew that The Usos were going to attack American Alpha after they lost (that one actually HAS happened a million times already), and it feels like nothing was accomplished. Actually it's worse than that. We have now killed off all of our challengers right before WrestleMania.
NIKKI BELLA vs. NATALYA - 4.75/10
Would you believe me if I told you that this was the first televised singles match these two have since this feud began? Because that shocked the hell out of me. And it's not like they've faced off in a bunch of tag matches, either. And yet at this point in the feud it feels like we should be getting the big blow-off. The match wasn't bad, but that feeling of just being completely tired of this feud did not help my enjoyment of this match, and the double count-out and post-match brawl makes it feel like nothing is moving forward.
In other news, Nikki has a new finisher. It's a submission called the "Fearless Lock," which makes me absolutely despise it. At least when Daniel Bryan made the name of his submission his gimmick plus "lock" on the end he was doing it to be an arrogant heel. And speaking of Bella Twin significant others, do you want to guess what submission hold Nikki has named the "Fearless Lock?" That's right! It's the STF. What a terrible f*cking idea. This feud already makes Nikki come off as totally obtuse for not recognizing how much of her success has to do with her looks and her boyfriend, but to now have her start using his submission move... WHY?! You're just digging an even bigger hole for yourself!
DASHA INTERVIEWS CARMELLA & ELLSWORTH - same idea as before.
I don't like this angle. He's already an obnoxious little twerp. You don't need to have him be pussy-whipped to make him annoying.
LUKE HARPER vs. RANDY ORTON - 7.5/10
A great brawl.
RENEE YOUNG INTERVIEWS NIKKI BELLA - Nattie jumps her from behind, making this at least the fortieth time Nikki Bella has been jumped from behind backstage since she returned from her injury less than six months ago. In that time she has been involved in two feuds, both of which wound up centering around someone claiming that she has only gotten where she is because of her relationship with John Cena. Is this really the only idea they can come up with for her?
WWE SMACKDOWN WOMEN'S TITLE MATCH:
Alexa Bliss!(c) vs. Naomi - 5.5/10
They did some could stuff, both with the hair and with countering each other's finishers. Then the finish came and they put the belt on Naomi because... um...
Apparently the idea is for her to "walk into her home town of Orlando, Florida as the Women's Champion" at WrestleMania. First of all, if this was how they wanted to build this match, maybe they should have MENTIONED THIS ON TV DURING THE BUILD TO THE MATCH?! Also, maybe it's just me, but it feels like it would be a much bigger deal to have her WIN the championship in her home town at WrestleMania.
Oh. Right. I forgot about the negative ten point "Alexa Bliss! loses the title" modifier when rating this match, so the final score for this match is -4.5/10... so it was still better than Jenna Morasca vs. Sharmell and Rebel vs. Shelley Martinez.
NAOMI PROMO - it was good until she put Alexa over for being a great champion. She's spend the past few weeks telling me Alexa is a cheater who doesn't deserve the title, but now she's putting Alexa over just because she was able to beat ever (and despite Alexa cheating in this very match)?
DASHA INTERVIEWS ELLSWORTH & CARMELLA AGAIN - this time at least we got something slightly new, as Ellsworth ordered Dasha to leave on Carmella's orders instead of just repeating what she said.
ELIMINATION CHAMBER MATCH FOR THE WWE TITLE:
John Cena(c) vs. Bray Wyatt vs. Dean Ambrose vs. AJ Styles vs. The Miz vs. Baron Corbin - 8.5/10
The "new" Elimination Chamber looks like a big goofy house. The pods are now square instead of circular and seem much shorter. Either that or they made the roof of the Elimination Chamber taller. The metal gratings outside of the ring have now been cover with mats. The glass of the pods has been replaced by some substance that bends enough that it didn't really look like it hurt that much when Dean got thrown into it, and it all fell away in one solid piece. There are more thick metal bars on the side than there used to be, meaning reduced visibility for the live crowd. There are also some parts of the chamber (basically a straight line from behind each pod up to the middle of the ceiling that is all Plexiglas for no real reason. And finally, maybe not the worst change but certainly the most annoying and emblematic change is the big honkin' WWE logo on the top. This is positioned so that the only time it will be seen is when they switch to the overhead camera that they use for the pod-selection shots. This exists for no reason other than to put the WWE logo on this thing. You know... in case the fact that it's on all of the turnbuckles, the constant mentions by the announcers, and the fact that there is always a WWE watermark on the bottom right corner of the screen the entire time didn't drive it into your skull to the point that you might forget what you're watching in those five seconds... and apparently this theoretical person with zero attention span forgetting what promotion this is for those five seconds would be a problem for some reason.
The problem with this new Elimination Chamber is that it looks like something that was designed to look cool rather than something that was designed to test the mental and physical fortitude of the six men in the match in order to determine who among them is truly the toughest and therefore deserves to be the victor. That does not carry with it the feel that previous Elimination Chamber matches had. Despite what the announces were constantly trying to tell me, I never once felt that anything that happened in this match would in any way change the lives or careers of the wrestlers involved (aside from Bray, but that's due to his title win rather than the fact that it was in an Elimination Chamber).
I highly suspect that the reason these changes to the Elimination Chamber were made was for the sake of the safety of the wrestlers, which is, of course, the most important thing... but rather than make this watered-down version of the Elimination Chamber, I think I would have just scrapped the gimmick all together. They've long since given up on actually setting one of these things up correctly by creating five challengers with a real claim to a title shot (in other words a situation that feels like it necessitates using the Elimination Chamber rather than there being five challenges to the title on this PPV because we want to have an Elimination Chamber match on this show), so why even have it? Unless you're trying to blow off five challengers at once it really isn't a good idea to book an elimination match because you've got to have five people get beaten instead of just one, which, with WWE being WWE, always results in attempts to protect someone because they don't realize that the best way to protect a guy you don't want to lose in a match like this is NOT BOOK HIM IN THE MATCH, which often leads to annoying or frustrating eliminations which sometimes hurt the winner because the victory doesn't feel quite as legitimate. Basically, the only reason that WWE does the match is because 1) there are a lot of people in it so in their minds it feels bigger, and 2) it looks/feels/probably is very dangerous. You can do a six-way match without it being an Elimination Chamber, so the only thing the chamber really contributes is number two... and now that they have gotten rid of that (for understandable reasons) then what benefit does the match provide? It's just a watered-down version of an old match, and that definitely hurt this match for me. There was some awesome action, but almost all of it felt like it could have been done without the Elimination Chamber structure, and the stuff that they did use the structure for was disappointing because it looked and sounded lame compared to the old chamber.
With that out of the way, let's talk about the actual wrestling and the booking. Like I said before, there was a lot of awesome stuff in here, especially between Cena, AJ, Ambrose, and Bray. The stuff when it was just any combination of those four in there was great. That's not to say that Corbin and Miz were bad because they weren't, but it wasn't at the same level. I thought Miz getting to run wild on AJ, Cena, and Bray was also great, but his elimination really annoyed me, simply because I'm pretty sure the AA that eliminated him was the only move he was hit with all match. I also liked having Bray eliminate Cena so that AJ and Bray were the final two because knowing we would have a new champion coming out of this definitely added to the atmosphere of the final two segment.
What I didn't like were the eliminations of Ambrose and Corbin. More specifically, I liked the pinfalls, but everything that happened in between them really annoyed me. I thought that having Corbin get rolled up the way he did was a good way to protect him while still making his elimination feel legitimate (although, again, if I was booking I just wouldn't have put him in the match) and I liked the idea of Miz pinning Ambrose by capitalizing on something someone else did, but I didn't like Corbin's assault on Ambrose for two reasons: 1) we already saw Dolph do the same thing earlier, and more importantly 2) it went on for WAY too long. He beat the crap out of Dean for at least three minutes! How was security not summoned to at least try to get him out of the ring? This beat-down also happens to contain my prime example of how this new Elimination Chamber structure felt watered down, which is that Corbin throwing Dean through the pod wasn't even the end of the beat-down. He had to beat him up some more on the other side after that, and then pull him into the ring to hit him with his finisher as the big ending spot (and no, they didn't need Ambrose to end up in the ring so Miz could pin him. They could have had Miz drag Dean into the ring to pin him).
This was a pretty disappointing show from Smackdown. The undercard was mostly dull and felt like pointless treading of water. The top three matches definitely didn't suffer from that, but I found the booking in the Smackdown Women's Title match baffling and, despite its quality, was disappointed by the Elimination Chamber as well.
STUPID ANNOUNCER QUOTES:
1. JBL- "The Usos completely ruled the tag team division for several years."
They've only been champions twice, and not even for one full year total. Not even close to one full year total. But yeah. Let's just say outlandish crap that has a high probability of being incorrect instead of saying something that is impressive that we know to be factually true like "The Usos know what it takes to become tag team champions!"
2. JBL gave Bob Orton credit for "headlining the first WrestleMania."
Does it really count as headlining if you're not even in the match? Did General Adnan really "headline" WrestleMania VII? Did Alex Riley really headline WrestleMania XXVII?
3. JBL- "In the NFL if you tackle somebody using the hair it's not illegal."
Is this the NFL, John? No? SO WHO GIVES A SH*T?!