Fresh off of having watched Elimination Chamber 2019, I take comfort in recognising the positive outlook I have as WrestleMania looms ever closer. There remain problems with WWE’s main roster creative output, many of them so obvious they need not be pointed out, but in terms so general it’s easy to lose sight of the specifics WWE’s overall product has been improving since the turn of the year. Elimination Chamber 2019, as a pay-per-view, represented something of a microcosm of this very environment, proving a show with massive upswings and crushing downturns in almost equal degree.
In timely consideration of the power of positivity, it is worth mentioning the dour undercard first – and let it be known, this review will feature spoilers. Featuring a Handicap Intercontinental Championship Match, a Smackdown Live (SDL) Tag Team Championship Match half made up by a team that isn’t a team and a No Disqualifications Match that felt both stale and out of place, it was a card of bizarre design executed in predictable fashion.
The production of Shane McMahon and The Miz’s SDL Tag Team Championship defence against the generation-defining duo of the Usos was as inevitably infuriating as you might have presumed. No description here could better encapsulate the bout’s primary issue than the commentary track that, mere minutes apart, pointed out the Usos “were the longest tenured team in WWE history” and the champions had “had a month to perfect their tag team continuity.” So naturally, then, the champions repeatedly outsmarted the challengers and came unstuck not through inferior team work, as logic might otherwise dictate, but rather through their own casual errors in judgement. Don’t look for dramatic action – the bout’s only drama was derived from the all too real fear of the Usos falling foul of rampant nepotism; that they didn’t, instead leaving with the silver, was at least able to cleanse the palette of the production’s foul aftertaste.
Monday Night Raw (MNR) didn’t do much better outside of the evening’s main events. The 2 on 1 Handicap Match that saw Bobby Lashley defend his Intercontinental Championship alongside hype man Lio Rush opposite a Finn Bálor still riding the crest of his spectacular January was as smartly compiled as could have been hoped for and did well to stick to established characterisation, but found itself inescapably hampered by the inexplicable stipulation. Like with the Usos before him though, that Bálor emerged the new Intercontinental Champion was enough to leave me elated rather than downtrodden once everything was wrapped up – obvious post-match beat down of the defeated Rush included.
That Baron Corbin continues to somehow find his way into main event and semi-main event spots is baffling, and his No Disqualifications encounter with Braun Strowman was deeply uninteresting. Unlike other instances, it didn’t get offset by post-match promise either. Instead, we were treated to the cringe-worthy return of the three man charisma vacuum that is Corbin’s alliance with Bobby Lashley and Drew McIntyre. At what point does ‘X-Pac Heat’ become a viable stable name?
As for the MNR Women’s Championship Match, one can only wonder why on earth it got booked on the card in the first place considering the manner in which it played out, managing to both miss an obvious opportunity and, at the same time, feel deeply disrespectful to an established character clearly capable of contributing more than a snack for Ronda Rousey. The reasonably well executed post-match shenanigans was clearly where WWE’s creative interest lay here, and could have easily been done without the need for an entirely pointless squash match preceding them.
Truly, the only real undercard gem from Elimination Chamber 2019 wasn’t even on the main show. If you haven’t checked out Buddy Murphy’s latest Cruiserweight Championship defence from last night’s pre-show, be sure to make the time to go and do so. It’s an exhilarating, content-laden delight not too far removed, conceptually, from the interaction we saw between Daniel Bryan and Samoa Joe in the evening’s closing bout.
The main events were where the true magic of Elimination Chamber 2019 could be found. Fears of a reprise of the dreadful Men’s Tag Team Elimination Chamber Match from 2015 were hard to ignore as the curtain jerker to crown the inaugural Women’s Tag Team Champions began, and a somewhat clumsy and mistake-riddled opening only exacerbated them. Once the match settled into telling its story, however, it proved a more than solid iteration of the genre, as good a Chamber Match as we can expect to see in an age where it stands so sterilised.
The production went to great lengths to play off of character nuances and psychological intrigue. Not all of those efforts paid off, with the curiosity surrounding whether Sasha Banks would betray Bayley feeling particularly misguided, but with the support of a solid structure defined by an intelligent order of elimination, as well as a slew of excellent performances that saw more than one of the greener members of the line-up come into their own, I think it’s fair to say the women once again exceeded expectations. The emotional post-match words of the new champions, Sasha Banks and Bayley, underscored the entire production as one worthy of memory.
Amazingly, similar comments might be made about the evening’s second and final Elimination Chamber Match wrestled for the WWE Championship. With a cast of characters including Bryan, Joe, a searingly hot Kofi Kingston and the typically reliable likes of Jeff Hardy, Randy Orton and AJ Styles, it’s difficult to imagine any version of their match that could ‘exceed expectations’ – yet it would be entirely fair to say the six men did just that. Built on a foundation of outstanding character-driven performances, the affair found itself peppered with compelling exchanges, from Bryan and Joe’s chop-fuelled duels to Kofi’s imposing confrontation of the smug champion atop a Chamber pod, all the way through to the frenetic and highly emotive conclusion. That conclusion did lose a little discipline in its race to exhilarate, but it was hardly enough to disturb the atmosphere, wrought by the absolute immersion of a fully engaged live crowd who proved, all night long for that matter, that they were there to enjoy the wrestling show and not there to try and be the wrestling show.
I feel like I loved the men’s Elimination Chamber Match, in honesty. It felt fresh and contemporary, even though it involved more than one long-running veteran hand. It felt intensely creative, interested in breaking new ground in the design of the action. It felt highly emotive, doubly so because of the manner in which Kingston’s underdog plight evoked the ghosts of Bryan’s similar title pursuit this time five years ago. Most of all, it felt brilliantly characterful, packed with committed character performances from almost every quarter. The story mixed the real-world inspired emotion of Kingston, the fashionably late lethality of a confident Orton, the sudden self-immolation of Hardy and the imposing relentlessness of Joe. Bryan stood out among them all, though, seemingly hitting yet another new level as a performer, taking his eco-crusading character to new, hatefully smug heights and outshining a retinue of world class pro wrestlers, all of them on fine form in their own right. Well, except one. Frankly, I found it to be an environment in which the lauded AJ Styles struggled to make a mark.
Appreciating it may just be me that feels that way about the Phenomenal One, I would hope it’s not just me who feels enthused, electrified even by Elimination Chamber 2019’s concluding match. The event overall has left me feeling upbeat on first viewing. Sure, its undercard was woeful and the issues that plague WWE persist. Even outside of the quality of the two titular main events, though, Elimination Chamber 2019 offered more reasons for optimism, not least of all that its merciful run-time proved WWE hasn’t yet forgotten how to put together three hour pay-per-views.
Increasingly so, the picture of a vibrant post-WrestleMania landscape forms. If Fastlane doesn’t derail us on our current course, we could be heading into a WrestleMania headlined by three championship matches featuring three champions the fans are happy to ‘hate’ and three challengers enjoying the universal and organic support of those same fans. On the MNR side, those matches have already taken shape: we know Seth Rollins is set to challenge Brock Lesnar for the Universal Championship and Elimination Chamber 2019 seemed to all but guarantee the re-insertion of Becky Lynch into the chase for the MNR Women’s title. Now, after last night, the SDL side can look forward to Daniel Bryan defending his title against what now feels like one of two absolute musts: Kofi Kingston or Mustafa Ali. In either instance, the creative trend set by Team Red will most definitely continue.
That alone is exciting enough, and certainly deeply refreshing. It gets even better when you consider the positioning of championships. We can already enjoy Daniel Bryan as WWE Champion, Finn Bálor as Intercontinental Champion, Asuka as SDL Women’s Champion and the Usos and Revival as the SDL and MNR Tag Team Champions respectively. If WrestleMania holds up its end of the bargain, by April we will hopefully add Universal Champion Seth Rollins and MNR Women’s Champion Becky Lynch to the list. I don’t know about you, but that’s a WWE landscape I can feel excited about.
So even if the majority of Elimination Chamber 2019 was forgettable at best, it offered up a good Chamber Match, an outstanding Chamber Match, a pleasingly manageable run-time and, above all else, more than a little extra promise for the weeks to come.
For more on my thoughts about Elimination Chamber 2019, be sure to check out my Performance Art Review on my podcast, Sports Entertainment is Dead, dropping exclusively on Lords of Pain Radio this Wednesday at 12.30 EST / 17.30 GMT!
What are YOUR first reactions to Elimination Chamber 2019? Sound off in the comments below, on social media or over on LOPForums!