Okay... who let the panel go out there like this? Between Coach's "so sharp I think it can stab someone" mustache/goatee combo, Beth's jarringly dark purple lipstick, Booker's recent discovery of Just For Men hair coloring, and whatever the f*ck has grown on Sam Roberts' face, I couldn't concentrate on anything they were actually saying (which, it being a WWE Kick-Off Show panel, is probably for the best). Sheamus &* Cesaro stopped by, and Sheamus, too, has some distracting hair. Heavy Machinery showed up to argue with Sheamus & Cesaro for some reason. Beth Phoenix gave Sheamus a hug, so I'll assume that she's a heel.
They showed us an angle that was taped at a house show where Becky showed up so save Asuka from a Kendo stick assault by Charlotte but Charlotte beat the crap out of Becky's knee and now she's hurt even worse. This did not make Becky look good, IMO.
RIOTT SQUAD PROMO - Meh. Also, Charlotte showed up. She towered over all of them. It was quite jarring. Charlotte gave them an unnecessary pep talk that I found quite annoying. We can add Charlotte to the list of people who doesn't know what the phrase "a bird's-eye view" means.
WWE CRUISERWEIGHT TITLE MATCH:
Buddy Murphy(c) vs. Akira Tozawa - 8.25/10
Try beating that, main roster! This was AWESOME. Matches like this are why you should be watching 205 Live.
Apparently Vince hasn't gotten the message, though, because we split-screened part of this important championship match so that Kayla Braxton could attempt to interview Kofi Kingston, who didn't even show up to the interview, so instead we got Big E. & Xavier Woods doing stupid comedy.
KEVIN OWENS SELFIE PROMO - Good. He gave his thoughts on various angles. The important part was when he said "it will be hard to explain to my kids, who are huge Becky Lynch fans, why she's not going to face Ronda Rousey at WrestleMania.
CHARLY CARUSO INTERVIEWS MARK HENRY - Great! Mark was given the chance to have some fun with his home-state crowd and asked to pick winners for the two Elimination Chamber matches. When he brought up Kofi Kingston's name, there were VERY loud "KOFI!" chants.
ELIMINATION CHAMBER MATCH TO CROWN THE FIRST-EVER WWE WOMEN'S TAG TEAM CHAMPIONS:
Fire & Desire vs. Sasha Banks & Bayley vs. Nia Jax & Tamina vs. The IIconics vs. Naomi & Carmella vs. The Riott Squad (Liv Morgan & Sarah Logan) - 7.5/10
Beth Phoenix joined the regular three on commentary for this match because the Women's Evolution(TM) was Making History(TM) and thus we needed Beth Phoenix, a Trailblazer(TM) of the Women's Evolution(TM) on commentary for it. She did not ingratiate herself to me by breaking kayfabe and telling us that Sasha and Bayley were "friends behind the scenes as well."
Sasha took one kick to the chest and was down in the corner for a bit selling her midsection injury in accordance with the angle they've built up on Raw while Mandy & Sonya double-teamed Bayley. Then Sasha got up and did a bunch of crossbodies without selling her midsection at all. Whoops.
Or maybe it's an arm injury because that's what was taped up and Sasha was then incapacitated once again by being whipped into one of the pods shoulder-first. This is what happens when you don't actually specify what part of someone's body is injured in your storyline on TV.
This left Bayley alone to get beaten up. This led to a Riott Squad vs. Fire & Desire segment that had a little too much cutesy mirror image stuff, and also some Liv Morgan strikes and Liv Morgan selling where were... not good. Bayley got to run wild on everyone, but got cut off with a Tower of Doom spot that wound up as one of those stupid ones where everyone goes down and stays down, even the people on the bottom who didn't actually get hit with a move. This was done so that The IIconics could come in and control things, setting up for Sasha's big return, saving Bayley from being pinned.
From there the match got pretty great, with every team having a role to play and getting time to shine. The eliminations were well-executed and well-paced, the Mandy vs. Naomi stuff was good, and the finish was the sort of thing you rarely see in WWE because they don't usually put that much thought into the idea of "if Sasha's arm is injured then she can't lock in the Banks Statement.
WWE SMACKDOWN TAG TEAM TITLE MATCH:
Shane McMahon & The Miz(c) vs. The Usos - 7.25/10
This was a lot better than I was expecting, and they even got me to care towards the end. Shane went a little nuts, putting one of the Usos through the announcers' table, and as a result was not able to break up a pin when Miz got rolled up for the finish. I was completely shocked when Miz did not turn on Shane afterwards.
DASHA FUNTES INTERVIEWS LIO RUSH & BOBBY LASHLEY - Dull.
HANDICAP MATCH FOR THE WWE INTERCONTINENTAL TITLE:
Bobby Lashley(c) & Lio Rush vs. Finn Balor - 6/10
The announcers kept talking about how "Lashely loves being intercontinental champion" and "how much the Intercontinental Title means to Bobby Lashley." Do you know who we've never heard talk about this? LASHLEY HIMSELF!
Balor pinned Lio, just like everyone saw coming. Lashley is understandably angry at Lio and eventually attacks him. Breaking these two up is bad for both of them.
CHARLY CARUSO INTERVIEWS CHARLOTTE FLAIR - A great heel promo, but this was a promo that she could have just as easily cut on TV, so why are we wasting PPV time with it?
WWE RAW WOMEN'S TITLE MATCH:
Ronda Rousey(c) vs. Ruby Riott - DUD!
Ronda is wearing Sonya Blade cosplay gear as a tie-in for voice over work she did. This is not what Ronda Rousey should be doing. She should be all business. Ronda won in under two minutes. Why even have the match if all it's going to do is make Ruby look like crap?
POST-MATCH SEGMENT - TERRIBLE. Ronda and Charlotte have a stare-down. Then Becky Lynch hobbles out through the crowd on crutches. As I'm sure you'll remember, Becky has been suspended for sixty days. Michael Cole certainly remembered, as he kept shouting "she's not even supposed to be here!" The problem, however, is that it becomes pretty hard for me to buy into the story that Becky is "not even supposed to be here" if she can just hop the barricade and get into the ring and no one tries to stop her.
It turns out she doesn't need the crutches. She throws one at Charlotte, then assaults her with the other. The suspended and not medically cleared woman is now assaulting someone with a weapon. And STILL no one has come out to stop her. Ronda just stood there watching, so she's a bad person for not helping Charlotte. Becky and Ronda have a stare-down, at which point they both started to turn towards Charlotte and it looked like we'd have the two babyfaces attack the lone heel with weapons for no reason. That didn't happen because Becky managed to trick Ronda into turning her back to her, so our supposed hero has now also assaulted someone from behind for no reason. Maybe it was just some really good camera cutting but Kevin Dunn, but it looked A LOT to me like Becky's crutch-swinging caught Ronda right in the head, twice (and she was bleeding from the temple, so I'm willing to bet that Becky might have given Ronda a concussion). Becky got a good fifteen or twenty shots in on Ronda before security finally moseyed their lazy asses down to ringside to remove Becky from the building.
After watching this segment, I am now more firmly convinced than ever than Becky Lynch is a dangerous psychopathic, and one who is happy to assault her victims from behind to boot. She is most definitely no longer a babyface.
NO DISQUALIFICATIONS MATCH:
Baron Corbin vs. Braun Strowman - 3.5/10
They did stuff. Weapons were used. Heat, comeback, Braun hits his finisher through a table... and then McIntyre came down the ramp while Lashley came out through the crowd behind Braun and stop me if you've heard this one before: Drew, Lashley, and Corbin beat up Braun Strowman with weapons and no one comes out to help Braun. That's right. We're back to the same thing that was happening every week on TV this fall while the ratings were tanking. They triple-powerbomb Braun through two tables stacked up.
Theoretically right now I should want to see Braun get his revenge on these three dastardly men, but all I want right now is for this feud to be over already. I want this to turn out to be an injury angle and for Braun to not return until after the Superstar Shakeup, at which point he will be drafted to Smackdown and be away from these three. This company f*cking sucks.
MIZ & SHANE IN THE TRAINER'S ROOM - Decent. Shane is getting worked on by the trainer. Miz is upset because he lost a match he promised his whole family he would win. He throws things. Shane tells him to go home.
LACEY EVANS APPEARS - Her music played, she walked out onto the stage, turned around, and walked right to the back. WHY DID THIS HAPPEN?!
FASTLANE COMMERCIAL - How is Fastlane "the final stop on the road to WrestleMania" if there is a whole month of TV between Fastlane and Mania? Did they not think this through before coming up with their dumb song? Oh. Right. This is WWE. Of course they didn't think it through.
DANIEL BRYAN PROMO - A great promo for what it was, but why is he cutting the go-home promo ON THE PPV?
ELIMINATION CHAMBER MATCH FOR THE WWE WORLD HEAVYWEIGHT TITLE:
Daniel Bryan(c) vs. AJ Styles vs. Randy Orton vs. Samoa Joe vs. Jeff Hardy vs. Kofi Kingston - a PERFECT 10/10!
Obviously Kofi's babyface performance and Bryan's heel performance were the anchors of this, but everything else in this match clicked, too. The timing of the eliminations was perfect, the action was awesome, all of the little things throughout like Bryan running away or AJ coming out of nowhere with those forearms (only to be eliminated when he went for one but was caught by the trope-setting RKO out of nowhere), the crowd being so behind Kofi, the OUTSTANDING final two segment... everything was PERFECT.
I know you're all expecting me to rant about them cutting away from A PINFALL for a f*cking crowd-shot, but I'm still basking in the afterglow of this AMAZING wrestling match so I can't do it.
(If you haven't seen the match yet, I STRONGLY ENCOURAGE you to stop here and go watch it first, because I will be spoiling the ending below.)
Two things I feel the need to comment on for the sake of my own consistency:
1. The "rope break" with Bryan and Kofi - I have always contended that while one is not obligated to break a hold in the ropes in a no DQs match, a hold or pin in the ropes is still technically illegal and thus while you can't get DQed for keeping it in, it also cannot win the match, so Bryan breaking the hold makes sense. Throw in the fact that he collapsed when he did so and Tom Phillips pointing out to us that he collapsed in exhaustion, and I had no problem with that spot.
2. On at least two occasions (Ilja Dragunov vs. John Klinger at wXw 17th Anniversary Show and Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Kota Ibushi from NJPW Wrestle Kingdom IX, and there might have been one other that I'm not remembering) I have given a match only 9.75/10, a rating I usually reserve for matches that would have been 10/10 if not for some botching or logic problems, because I felt that the wrong wrestler went over for the story they were telling. In other words, the story they were telling in the ring felt like it necessitated a different ending than the one we got. I don't think that applies in this case because the story here was an issue of could Kofi win the title, whereas in those matches the story was one of Ibushi needing to prove the dick-head Nakamura wrong (and failing) or one where a babyface who has been built up and screwed over all year (Ilja) finally gets his fair fight with the heel... and loses, failing to save the promotion from the end boss (Klinger). Those matches were a culmination of something (in the former a story that built throughout their match, in the latter a story that had been built up on two different axes over the course of a year). This match was a question of how far Kofi's magical ride would take him... and, unfortunately he just fell short.
This is a classic example of a show that had a lot of crap on it but people will remember it fondly for the awesome main event. Basically, it was a longer episode of Raw, but with Elimination Chamber matches. The stuff that actually felt like PPV matches (the Cruiserweight Title match, the two Elimination Chambers, and the SD tag title match) were great, but the stuff in the middle was the same dreck we're going to have to watch tomorrow night on Raw. Check the good matches out for yourself, but do yourself a favor and stay away from the other stuff.