By Matt Straub and Brad Carroll
Normally, the setup for the Elimination Chamber would lead us to the kind of show Brad and I would spend several thousand words destroying. It’s a small card, which is probably going to mean lots of awful filler material, and the outcomes of the matches feel incredibly predictable. Yes, the chamber itself always leads to some interesting spots and a watchable match, but this year’s show seems on the surface to leave a lot to be desired.
Inside the easily-called matches, however, are opportunities to pave the road to WrestleMania. There are numerous subplots happening within each match, and some angles which could go in a few different directions. If we’re lucky, the setup also gives WWE a chance to continue one of the most pleasant and unexpected trends in a long time. There’s plenty of time for wrestling, something the company has put a premium on lately. Gone have been the 20-minute promos, which now are mostly relegated to brief backstage spots or quick snippets in a hallway, and in are long, well-constructed matches which tell stories instead of just being spotfests. It’s a trend I’d love to see WWE continue tonight, as the endings are so predictable we could at least use good matches on the way to those outcomes.
So, despite there only being four matches on the card, there’s much to discuss. Let’s get to it.
“Woken” Matt Hardy vs. Bray Wyatt
Matt’s Breakdown and Prediction: I think I finally understand the Matt Hardy thing. It took months of studying what I believe to be the worst gimmick in the history of professional wrestling (which is truly saying something), but I have it. The reason I want to delete this angle is because I’m not on any illicit substances. Even WWE’s own writers, charged with getting you hyped for this month’s PPV, were clearly on something when doing their prep work for this match. They actually call this feud a “mystical struggle through time”. I would like to struggle my way to a time where Matt Hardy is no longer British, broken, woken, or dumb. And don’t tell me the fans are into this dreck, they just like chanting “delete,” because it’s easy to do. They still yell “Yes,” even though Daniel Bryan hasn’t wrestled in years and “what,” despite Steve Austin being gone from competing in a real match for 15 years now. By the way, let that sink in for a second. Steve Austin is 53 years old and hasn’t wrestled a legitimate match in 15 years. Just as amazing: Bray Wyatt was the heavyweight champion of the world after the Elimination Chamber a year ago. I don’t know which shocks me more. The guy who has won 30 percent of his matches in WWE (though he is, stunningly, 21-18 on PPV according to profightdb) was champion, or that his last reign was so recent. Think of how far Wyatt has fallen: he went from holding a belt to killing time on a PPV which is ridiculously underbooked. Knowing he’s fodder for the furthering of the worst gimmick ever has to be rock bottom for Wyatt, who should seriously consider going to GWF at this point, or getting a new job all together. If this is what WWE thinks of him, then there’s no point in continuing. Matt wins, which is an absolute shame.
Brad’s Breakdown and Prediction: I loved when Matt Hardy first started doing his “woken” character on TV, and I haven’t been taking any of the illicit substances Matt apparently knows a whole lot about. But my love has turned into hate, and not the good kind of hate. Right now I couldn’t care less about the Hardy character or his feud with Bray Wyatt. Hardy isn’t interesting, while Wyatt has become completely boring. This feud couldn’t be any lamer. I guess Hardy gets the win and the feud continues. Yipee.
Ronda Rousey’s official Raw Contract Signing
Matt’s Breakdown: Typically, I wouldn’t bother spending time on the filler stuff between matches, but this will be a historic moment for WWE. It’s Rousey’s first official promoted appearance as a full-time superstar and will help shape the future of the women’s division. Rousey will obviously do more than just sign her contract (which she did last month in reality), but she’ll likely have an interaction with her future opponent. We’ll also learn if she can cut a promo. She knows how to trash talk, but delivering scripted material in a natural way is a much different challenge. She will probably seem stiff at first, but she should get through it OK. The more important thing is who she faces off with. I don’t think it will be Alexa Bliss, who has enough to worry about Sunday as it is. I also doubt they’ll give Rousey a match before WrestleMania, as they seem committed to giving her as much training time as possible. I also believe WWE will want to give her the biggest name possible in order to maximize exposure. Which is why I think you’re going to see the beginnings of an eventual switch. Charlotte Flair is going to appear somehow, and WWE will have its megamatch for Mania. Yes, it’s Asuka’s choice, but the details will be ironed out somehow. Charlotte is the bigger name and has the bigger frame, allowing for her to mesh better with Rousey in what will be her first big match, if not her first one on television at all. Also, and this is no small point, Asuka doesn’t speak enough English to have a major feud with Rousey, which WWE would want to send clips of to every major media outlet. I might be jumping the gun on all this happening tonight, but WWE needs an excuse to make this segment chew up some time, and I think Rousey-Flair is the eventual destination.
Brad’s Breakdown: I get more into Rousey’s potential opponents below, so I’ll keep this brief. But Straub brings up an interesting opponent for Rousey in Charlotte, and it absolutely could happen if WWE doesn’t keep the Raw-SmackDown matches specific to each brand. If they don’t, and remember, WWE is no longer holding brand-specific PPVs anymore, as both Raw and SmackDown will have matches at each PPV, this potential matchup could happen if WWE wanted it to. So Straub isn’t crazy, and Rousey-Charlotte makes sense as a WrestleMania supermatch, but wouldn’t that be super early for a payoff to what should be a long-term feud for the title down the line? There’s some other directions to go in as well, which I’ll break down more in our women’s matches below.
Asuka vs. Nia Jax
Matt’s Breakdown and Prediction: A night where the endings seem so obvious would seem to hurt the show, but I’m also concerned about my picks when they feel this easy. This one might be the best bet on the board, as Asuka has been storming through the ranks lately and won’t have her WrestleMania moment ruined with a triple-threat match, which is what happens if Jax wins. I feel bad for Jax, who just can’t seem to get a shot despite her obvious size and strength. She’s not the worker Asuka and company are, but she’s good enough to be on every week and seems to be the only one who never gets a chance to run with the ball. It won’t happen here, as Asuka beats yet another contender. This trend is concerning for WWE, which wasted a pair of future PPV matches in recent weeks by having Asuka beat both Bayley and Sasha Banks, and runs the risk of having Asuka clean out the division before she ever seems most of it on PPV. Of course, if she’s really going to SmackDown as I predict, it won’t matter. It’s just odd that WWE would leave money on the table. Asuka wins. By the way, she’s not losing at Mania or before, which is another reason I doubt she gets near Rousey.
Brad’s Breakdown and Prediction: I can’t see Asuka losing just yet. I also can’t see Nia Jax being buried with a clean loss after everything she’s being built into. It makes for an interesting match on paper, where the thought of WWE actually ruining Asuka’s win streak will be on everyone’s minds. And even though it would be the biggest mistake WWE could possible make (and don’t they always make that mistake when given the chance?) it could happen where Jax wins. If that happens, even an Auska title win at WrestleMania won’t have the same feel to it. I’m thinking this match will have some sort of screwy finish that protects both women but still has Asuka winning. Enter Ronda Rousey, who will be on the show to sign her Raw contract. She could show back up and cost Jax the match. That would set her up as a face and have a match with Jax at WrestleMania. If that’s too soon to have Rousey wrestle, then the interference could force Jax into the Alexa Bliss-Asuka title match anyway. Either of those options works, although Rousey facing Jax is preferred. Asuka wins here because she has to, but don’t be surprised to see Rousey or something else weird happen at the end to add some chaos to the title picture.
First-ever Women’s Elimination Chamber Match
Matt’s Breakdown and Prediction: I give WWE credit, they managed to put together some storylines to work on during the match everyone knows the outcome of. Alexa Bliss is keeping her title, but WWE has basically turned this into a triple-threat tag team match. I’d be surprised if anyone gets eliminated before all six competitors are in the ring, so we can see the teams coexist. There are two possible storylines here which could be advanced. Mickie James is sort of teasing a heel turn as she aligns herself with Bliss, but is it just to double-cross her Sunday? Are Bayley and Sasha finally heading toward a real feud and a WrestleMania match? Can WWE make Absolution matter? I mean, none of it really matters because Alexa is winning, but there’s a large undercard to fill in New Orleans, and Sunday will help shape it.
Brad’s Breakdown and Prediction: The women’s elimination chamber match is a whole lot easier to break down than the men’s match because there’s only three legit possible winners. So, take out Mandy Rose, Sonya Deville and Mickey James, they are just fillers. That leaves Sasha Banks, Bayley and the champion, Alexa Bills. First, Bayley needs this win more than anybody, as she’s gone from a fan favorite champion to a complete after-thought. Actually, it’s way worse than that. She’s been made to look like the ultimate loser, and not the “overcoming the odds” type of loser. Nope. Just straight up loser. She’s slowly working her way out of that hole, though, and a win over Sasha Banks and a great showing against Asuka recently has helped a great deal. But winning this match would be her true reemergence on the main event scene. She would put together a guaranteed great match against Asuka at WrestleMania too. Then there’s Banks, who is slowly working her way into a full-blown heel role, something she would do very well. She lost against Bayley recently, which works in her favor winning here in WWE’s logic. But that momentum may have vanished when she got the win in a six-woman tag match on Raw Monday night. Yes, in WWE, victories on Raw before a pay-per-view mean you’re likely to lose. Still, Banks winning is totally believable and she too would tear down the house against Asuka at WrestleMania. Then comes Alexa Bliss, who has been dwarfed on the big stage by both Asuka’s arrival and the signing of Rousey. Bliss went from the woman everyone was talking about to someone who is barely visible in the women’s division, despite holding the title. Bliss might actually need this win more than Bayley, and as I continue to write, I believe she actually does. Bliss against Asuka might be the worst possible match for WrestleMania between the two previously mentioned, but at least Bliss can carry the hype from now until then, as Asuka can’t talk. Bliss is certainly better at that than Bayley or Banks. Bliss needs this victory and she’s going to find a way to get it, as WWE needs to establish her again as a star before she loses the strap to Asuka at WrestleMania. After that, Bliss could fit right into a feud with Rousey, who I don’t think will go against Asuka any time soon.
Men’s Elimination Chamber Match
(Winner to face Brock Lesnar for the Universal Title at WrestleMania)
Matt’s Breakdown and Prediction: Look, I’m not even doing the thing where I break down everyone’s chances because Roman is winning. It’s not what I would do, as Braun Strowman is on fire and should be pushed to the moon, but Roman is winning. And if by some miracle he loses, he’s going to win something in March which gets him into the main event at WrestleMania, so don’t get excited. Brock vs. Roman is your main event in New Orleans, no matter what any of us want. While the main event is set, however, WWE can start some WrestleMania feuds Sunday. There’s a lot of talk about Seth Rollins vs. Finn Balor at WrestleMania, which could be fun, so I’d expect them to interact quite a bit. Rollins deserves a good match after he propelled himself back into the main picture with a fantastic performance on Raw last week, going 65 minutes in Ric Flair fashion. I have no idea what they’ll do with Elias, and Cena is just kind of there until Undertaker returns. What will be fascinating will be seeing how WWE keeps Braun strong while making him lose. I expect some fluke, or having three guys hold him down for a pin. The ending, however, is something we all expect, but few want. WWE has done an amazing job changing the direction of their TV programming lately, but their main storyline is all too familiar.
Brad’s Breakdown and Prediction: First, one of the few who want to see Roman Reigns win is Straub himself, don’t be fooled. The only way I’d believe he wasn’t marking out for the greasy-haired, charisma-challenged superstar was if he was back on the John Cena love train. Now, the WWE has done well setting up this match, with all seven challengers battling for the right to face Brock Lesnar for the Universal title at WrestleMania being given a moment on Monday night to show they can win in the Chamber. While Reigns got the least push of any of them on Raw, we all know he still is the odds-on-favorite to win this match and face Lesnar at WrestleMania. Reigns looked the worst on Raw, but as we’ve talked about above, that means he is the most likely to win Sunday. So, Reigns is the favorite, even though there are three better options. One of those options was added to my list after his performance on Raw, and that’s Seth Rollins, who now is a legit threat to win this match. He joins Braun Strowman and Finn Balor as the three who the fans would love to see win, and also the ones who need it and deserve it the most. But before we get into my prediction, let’s break it down one-by-one, starting with the least likely to most likely to win at Elimination Chamber.
Elias: He’s benefited immensely from the injury to Samoa Joe, as he’s getting the push that was supposed to go to the former NXT champion. But Elias has taken the opportunity and absolutely crushed it, making him a legit player in a main event spot. Elias isn’t going to win this match, but he’s taken a huge step in his career and has connected with the fans in a way I can’t imagine WWE thought he would. He’s just not ready for the big spot, especially considering the other options.
The Miz: Wouldn’t it be something if it was the Miz who actually won this match and went on to WrestleMania, and then beat Brock Lesnar for the Universal title? While some fans would hate it, a lot would go crazy in celebration. The Miz has been the MVP of Raw and is doing his best work right now. But the Miz isn’t going to win.
John Cena: He was pinned clean on Raw by Rollins, so he could be set up for the win Sunday, because WWE always likes to throw a curveball heading into a PPV. Cena has been weird of late, teasing retirement, saying on Monday he’s got too much on his plate, with other commitments outside of wrestling, and continuing to say winning this match is his only real way to get a match at WrestleMania. Now, while it’s absurd for anyone to believe Cena wouldn’t have a WrestleMania match if he wanted one, it does make you second-guess his chances. I’d say he doesn’t have a shot on the surface, but they really are playing up the fact he has to win this to get to WrestleMania. It’s very possible he does win, as WWE would squeeze one more main event out of him before he goes away for good. More likely, however, is this is the beginning of the end in his soon-to-come retirement. I wouldn’t be surprised if he won, but very disappointed, as I’m sure everyone who isn’t wearing a bright-colored T-shirt would be. (For the record, Straub is typing this preview wearing a bright-green Cena shirt and crying about my pick against the pistachio elephant and hinting at a possible retirement.)
Seth Rollins: Before Monday’s epic performance I would have put Rollins in the “no chance” column, but he was made to look like a singles star again, and it worked completely, as he pinned the two biggest WWE heroes of late, Cena and Reigns. It was shocking really, especially since the WWE regulated Rollins to tag team stupidity for what seems like forever now. Rollins and Finn Balor have been downgraded so much since their match for the Universal title it’s shocking both are in a big spot with a chance to win and go on to main event WrestleMania. But while Monday’s performance was memorable, and it will for-sure elevate his stature going forward, Rollins isn’t going to win this match. His career is certainly back on track, though, and it all started with the injuries to Dean Ambrose (who is awful) and Jason Jordan. Injuries suck, but in this case it made the WWE realize once again what they have in Rollins as a singles star.
Finn Balor: I want him to win. The crowd wants him to win. But I don’t think the WWE is ready to pull the trigger on a Balor-Lesnar feud yet. And maybe they never will be. Balor is slowly being built back up into a main eventer, but I’m not sure he’s all-the-way back in the WWE’s eyes. And I think not being the Demon more often hurts him as well. I put Balor as the third favorite to win the Chamber match, behind Strowman and Reigns, and while I did flirt with the idea of picking him to win, I just don’t see it happening.
Braun Strowman: He’s so great he doesn’t need the Universal title to be immensely popular, which hurts his chances every time he has a title opportunity. It’s actually more stunning he is getting opportunities in the first place, if you think about it. Remember, Andre The Giant never needed the world title to be an unbeatable monster. But Strowman is so awesome because even though he can just go around and create havoc, and he does, he is still focused on beating the best and winning the title. Strowman wants to beat Lesnar and has no problem saying it. That’s great. It’s refreshing. Strowman can win this whole thing, no doubt about it.
Roman Reigns: You know the deal. I know the deal. Straubby and his man-love for Reigns even knows the deal. It would be a shock if Reigns doesn’t win this match and go on to main event WrestleMania once again. He’s likely to win that match against Lesnar too. Everyone will be picking him to win, and Straub will be hoping against hope he does, switching his Cena T-shirt for a Reigns one as this match progresses. Of course, I’m hoping the WWE goes in a different direction. But there’s no denying Reigns is the clear favorite.
Now, for the prediction. My original pick before typing this was going to be Finn Balor. But the more I write the more it doesn’t make sense to go in that direction, other than taking a chance on what would be a surprising win and therefore a tremendous prediction. With Balor out, it comes down to Reigns and Strowman. It’s obvious to lean toward Reigns. There’s the forever rumors about him main eventing against Lesnar, and the fact he lost on Monday night, while Strowman won the gauntlet match, which all together works for Reigns and against Strowman for Sunday. But something tells me this is the moment Strowman really takes off. And he’s not only going to win this match Sunday, but he’s going to finally beat Lesnar on the WrestleMania stage as well, with Lesnar likely not even coming back at all. WWE needs a new monster and Strowman is the guy. Plus, we all know Strowman is going to be there every Monday with the title in hand. The crowd will love it too. Everything about this match and its setup says Reigns is going to win, and nobody will be surprised if and when he does, but there’s time for one more curveball. Strowman is going to win and Straub is going to cry. Win-win.