The Elimination Chamber has always been one of the great melting pots in the WWE’s calendar. A match that macgyvers together a number of the company’s most famous gimmicks and throws in six (or perhaps even seven) of their top stars. The match itself is pure WWE, a hybrid of the violence and thrills of a cage or ladder match, with the exciting random chance of a Royal Rumble.
In its best iterations the multi-man nature of the match is underpinned by the characters and stories that head in, get melt down and the new characters and stories that emerge in the aftermath. It was that way in the first ever chamber match where Shawn Michaels snatched an improbable victory, while RVD staked his claim to be on the championship level. It was also the case in my favourite iteration of the match at New Year’s Revolution in 2005 where amongst the chaos of Edge tangling with guest ref Shawn Michaels and Chris Benoit and Chris Jericho teaming up, Triple H finally dispensed with Randy Orton only to find one of his own, Batista, was potentially the biggest threat to his championship.
While last year’s Smackdown match failed to reach those lofty heights, there is a lot of promising action happening on Monday Night Raw in the lead up to this year’s match. So before the seven combatants enter the chamber this Sunday let’s take a look at the characters, rivalries and stories that could make a difference to this year’s match.
Of course everything in the match is ultimately heading one way: who will win the right to face off with Brock Lesnar at Wrestlemania 34 for the Universal Title? It is fitting that to face a man who has beaten all comers, the contenders will need to go through such a violent and grueling match. The fact the winner will be going on to face the WWE’s ultimate force will have to weigh heavy on the minds of the wrestlers entering the chamber and if the WWE play it smartly the spectre of The Beast hanging over this match could well affect the demeanour and atmosphere of the entire event.
Four of the men stepping in have previously faced The Beast: John Cena, Roman Reigns, Braun Strowman and Seth Rollins, with only Cena and Rollins having recorded wins against him. These two both come in under a cloud and are a long way from the men they were when they managed to escape Lesnar with a win. Reigns and Strowman though have tasted The Beast and even though they haven’t yet bested him, they go in with far more confidence and self assurance than the likes of Rollins and Cena. Strowman in particular has looked to have Lesnar’s number on three separate occasions only to be out maneuvered by the Champ at the last minute. It is the last chance for him to stake his claim to the title he has chased since Summer Slam and the crowd would go crazy if he was finally given the nod.
For Reigns part he seems to have been destined to win the spot opposite Lesnar since the minute Wrestlemania 33 finished. Going into this match he will remember the storm he was able to weather at Mania 31 and how he did indeed show Brock and the world that even a Beast can bleed. He has the swagger and arrogance of a champion but can he get the job done at the very top level after facing mostly The Miz over the first month or so of 2018?
Of the other three, only Finn Balor really has any experience looking fear in the eye and not flinching. His encounters with Samoa Joe in NXT and his ability to summon his own inner demon mean he could possibly master The Beast if given the chance. The Miz and Elias inspire less confidence, at Elimination Chamber last year Miz was positively quaking in his boots against far less dangerous opposition. It would take shenanigans aplenty to make either of those two look like a threat against Lesnar so I predict they will have slightly different roles to play in the match.
I labeled the blockbuster feud between Braun Strowman and Roman Reigns from last summer as the War of Samson and Goliath, Reigns the man gifted with superhuman strength and arrogance to match it and Braun, the giant who stands in front of an army and demands more competition. Together they put on a series of matches that escalated in violence both in and out of the ring, pushing each other’s characters to breaking point. While the build to the Elimination Chamber has so far avoided putting these two face to face, when they do enter the ring the pair are bound to share at least one stare down and hopefully launch into some sort of carnage reminiscent of their hell for leather brawls of 2017.
Interestingly, a caged off environment of any kind is one of the few locations these two haven’t fought each other in and the claustrophobic setting is bound to create some fireworks as these two go at it again.
Strowman and Reigns are the two odds on favourites to win the match and I suspect a lot of the match will be centred around the other wrestlers best efforts to stop the two biblical forces. If they cannot be contained it could well come down to these two fighting over the final fall and potentially adding another chapter to their already monumental backstory.
Let’s be honest, for most of last year John Cena did not look like the champ he was in the past. Sure he showed up beyond the Royal Rumble match, said all the right things and ran the right lines but he was clearly not occupying the same mythical air he had in the past. Over the year he went from facing AJ Styles at his peak and winning, to curtain jerking Summer Slam, not being able to put away Roman Reigns, playing a bit part at Survivor Series and finished feuding with midcard newcomer Elias. In the past, the lead up to Wrestlemania would see Cena peaking both in the ring and on the mic but in the lead up to The Elimination Chamber, despite claims he is going to be doing something ‘bigger than a championship match’ come April, he was barely able to scrape by Finn Balor to qualify.
These struggles have been noticed by some of the scrapier, hungrier stars like Elias and The Miz who are now circling the out of sorts Cena, looking to have their shot at picking off a corpse that only a year ago the could never have dreamed of consuming. To these wrestlers, obsessed with status and glory, a diminished Cena represents a name they can launch themselves off of and it would not be surprising to see Elias in particular make a bee line for Cena when he enters at number 7. The Miz has tangled with Cena many times before and only once has had something to brag about afterwards. The self proclaimed A-Lister is all about his status and the chamber could be the chance to exact some revenge for the countless drubbings he has taken at Cena’s hands.
However, the chamber is a violent place and the WWE could well use it to shock Cena’s character back into gear and push him back to the heights we know he can reach. Another face off with Reigns seems inevitable but it is the interactions with Strowman, a giant Cena would have gobbled up and spat out two years ago, that I am most looking forward to. Can Cena summon the strength that saw him hoist the likes of The Big Show and The Great Kahli on his shoulders so many times or will he be be another one of the men Braun manages to get with those hands.
With the reunion of The Shield and formation The Balor Club, the theme of brotherhood has been a strong motif in the WWE over the last six months. While The Good Brothers are still reveling in the honeymoon of their reunion, The Shield has had a less than peaceful January and the guy most affected by the turbulence has undoubtedly been Seth Rollins. This peaked at the Royal Rumble where Rollins was no doubt left wondering where his true brothers were after being eliminated by Reigns from the Rumble and in the tag match let down by Jason Jordan, who took a bump into the ring post Dean Ambrose would have eaten for breakfast.
There has so far been no fallout from Reigns’ actions at the Rumble however Seth showed up at Raw last Monday fired up and wanting to remind everyone the force he can be when fighting solo. It is likely that in the chamber he will team up with Reigns at some point but they both clearly understand the threat the other guy poses. Every time one of them seizes an opportunity at the expense of the other it weakens that bond they have. While Rollins and Ambrose relationship has always been very clearly defined, Reigns and Rollins seem to drift in and out of each other’s lives as need determines it. They have very rarely directly competed directly against one another since reuniting in 2016 but I sense their relationship is being experiencing a fraying at the edges as their conflicting motivations and desires rub up against one another.
While it seems Reigns is all but predestined to take the spot opposite Lesnar it would make my night if those cracks turned into proper schisms and these two cost one another the match to set up something between them at Wrestlemania.
More likely could be the furthering of the tension Rollins has shared with Finn Balor. At the start of the brand split in 2016 they were marked as the top two male picks for Raw and they faced off in the match to crown the first ever Universal Champion. It is fair to say that neither of them ever really got the chance to properly fill that lofty positioning and on their road back to the top they have now run into one another again. The motivation for Balor must be high, as it was Rollins that ultimately injured him and saw his Universal Title run cut short. Balor has always risen above directly attributing blame but if put into the wrong position at the wrong time you never know when his demon may come out.
That wraps up my debut column here on the main page, thanks for checking it out. I’ll be posting again after the PPV and give you a chance to help me pick the biggest winners and losers on the night.
Until then what stories and characters are you looking to see develop at the Elimination Chamber? Let me know in the comments below or better yet jump on the Lords Of Pain forums and tell me there, it is where myself and all of the other writers here cut our teeth and also where you can chat with us about any topic under the sun.