By Matt Straub and Brad Carroll
With baseball training camps opening this week, and some of its biggest names still looking for jobs, the amount of discussion about the allocation of resources is through the roof. Teams these days want to spend their money on a bunch of moderately-paid players as opposed to using large portions of their funds on stars. Finding the balance between having good players and budgeting things well enough to field a good team is everything now, and with good reason, as a bad use of resources can lead to disaster. For example, WWE’s Elimination Chamber show Sunday night has ample resources available, but uses them in a way which all but guarantees us a boring show.
The road to WrestleMania still has nearly two months to go, so WWE can’t blow through all its good story ideas in one night. The problem with playing the long game, however, is having the two shows between the Royal Rumble and WrestleMania feel like space fillers. Here’s a look at just such a show, which will serve very little purpose besides getting a few subscriptions to the network as people remember Mania is coming.
WWE Champion "The New" Daniel Bryan vs. AJ Styles vs. Jeff Hardy vs. Kofi Kingston vs. Randy Orton vs. Samoa Joe (Elimination Chamber Match)
Matt’s Breakdown and Prediction: Here’s a perfect example of the conflict facing the Elimination Chamber. The format of the show is one which should lend itself to important matches, and the cage itself is one of the best gimmicks in wrestling. The timing of the PPV, however, isn’t one which would make sense to have a lot of big swerves. There’s only a few matches for WrestleMania we don’t know about already, and the top of the card won’t feature a lot of new stuff until after we leave New Jersey. For instance, if this show were a different time of year, WWE could use Kofi Kingston’s wonderful performance Tuesday night to vault him to a top spot, the way the gauntlet match officially stamped Seth Rollins as the best wrestler on Raw a few months ago and made it impossible for WWE to go to anyone else for the WrestleMania Raw title match. Instead, there isn’t enough time to completely rewrite everything, nor is there a motivation to do so. WWE plans WrestleMania months in advance, unlike most of it work, and it doesn’t want to have to completely rework everything now. I’d love Kingston to get a big push, and I think he’ll have a chance to shine for a long time in this match, but we know he’s not winning the belt, so what’s the point? WWE seems to be heading toward a Bryan-Joe feud, with Styles possibly in there as a third man for a triple threat at WrestleMania. The match would be epic, and could be set up Sunday, with one of the entrants getting robbed or nearly beating Bryan. The bright side is we know something good is coming. The bad news is we have to wait to get there, as I can’t imagine Bryan losing Sunday.
Brad’s Breakdown and Prediction: The problem with this starts with the SmackDown roster. While there are plenty of stars (wasted, of course), and the in-ring action and storytelling is much better than that of Raw, there just aren’t that many options to have at the top of the card as the company’s top champion. There’s Daniel Bryan, the current champ, and AJ Styles, the former champ, and, well, that’s about it. Who else could you realistically stamp as a champion in waiting on the roster? Becky Lynch would be a better choice to be WWE champion than Kofi or Orton or Hardy or really anyone. Some of it has to do with the WWE’s poor booking decisions (Samoa Joe, Shinsuke Nakamura, to name a pair), but the main reason is Vince McMahon still over-stacks Raw and lets SDLive fend for itself. And, on a side note, that’s even more perplexing that Raw is so terrible nowadays. Thank God for Becky Lynch, or Raw would be completely unwatchable. For this elimination chamber match, I think I already whittled the contenders down to two, as in Bryan and Styles are the only ones who could win this match. Hardy, Orton and Kingston are definite no’s. Samoa Joe is a possible, but WWE won’t give him the opportunity. So we’re back to Bryan and Styles, which will probably be the match for the title with some crazy stipulation at WrestleMania. I guess that’s fine, but it will be recycled a ton by then, which should make Bryan happy at least. Recycling! But Styles isn’t going to win the belt here, as Bryan’s still too quick into his push to stop it now, especially with the belt undergoing a complete makeover. They aren’t going to change the belt like that and toss it away just a few weeks later. So, the match will be good, but the outcome should be already known.
Elimination Chamber Match to crown Women’s Tag Team Champions
Matt’s Breakdown and Prediction: This is one of the few matches on the card which doesn’t have an obvious winner. I worry about this division because this match is basically the whole field, and I don’t know how much they’ll have to work with on a weekly basis. Sasha and Bayley, key players in the women’s revolution, have been left behind during the push for more mainstream names, and deserve this moment. The only other team I can see winning is the IIconics, who grew up wanting to be the women’s tag champions in real life when they were kids. Their real life story has been played up recently on television, and it would be a nice payoff. I think the Boss and Hug Connection get the win, but the IIconics get the belts whenever they’re ready to push Sasha as a singles wrestler again. On the other hand, you’re wasting a great resource, your second chamber match of the night, on this?
Brad’s Breakdown and Prediction: I don’t mind this match being in the Chamber, as it makes the match and the new titles have extra meaning. And with the names in the match, a “stipulation” is needed even more so. Sasha Banks and Bayley are the easy choice to win, but the easiest way isn’t typically the way things go. The IIconics make sense, too, and this would be the perfect way to elevate the duo and hide their weaknesses as individuals at the same time. Mandy Rose and Sonya Deville and Carmella and Naomi have no chance. The Riott Squad would, and I would actually pick them, if Ruby Riott was part of it, but she’s not, so it’s a no for the Squad. That leaves, in addition to Sasha and Bayley and the IIconics, Nia Jax and Tamina, which everyone hates, but makes them legitimate contenders to win this match and the titles. And, unfortunately, that’s what’s going to happen. Jax and Tamina win and a feud is set up between the Boss and Hug Connection all the way to WrestleMania, where the latter will get their moment and win the tag team titles. But, for now, it’s disappointment.
SmackDown Tag Team Champions The Miz & Shane McMahon vs. The Usos
Matt’s Breakdown and Prediction: WWE has given itself quite the dilemma here. Miz and Shane are a fun duo, and they have some chemistry. Because Shane is involved, the plot has to go on for a while, since we all assume it will pay of with the team splitting and having a big match. The issue is that in the meantime, they have to keep winning. Does WWE really want Shane cleaning out the division? They’ve already beaten the Bar, are they going to go over the Usos? What’s next, a handicap match against the New Day? I don’t know how long it will go, but the champs are winning Sunday, no matter how bad it makes one of the company’s biggest real teams look.
Brad’s Breakdown and Prediction: Shane McMahon in a pay-per-view match used to be something to behold, and that had as much to do with whatever crazy stunt he’d pull out as the rarity of it. Shane rarely got in the ring, which made those moments and matches stand out even more. But now it’s becoming more and more common and that makes it less and less interesting each time out. So, here, I don’t give one iota that Shane is wrestling in this match, or for the match itself. It will likely turn out to be a fun affair, with at least one memorable moment, but the more Shane wrestles the less those moments become special. It will continue, however, as Miz and McMahon win this match and will go on to WrestleMania as champions.
WWE Cruiserweight Champion Buddy Murphy vs. Akira Tozawa
Matt’s Breakdown and Prediction: Am I crazy, or does this feel like the main event on an upcoming AEW show? If that promotion is going to take off, by the way, it has to decide what it wants to be. Right now they have too many directions. There are indy guys who can bring in the die hards, and former big names in WWE like Chris Jericho. If AEW is going to try and push itself as a big-time promotion right away, which it has the money to do, it can’t have its biggest names be two guys who had nothing going on in WWE and another who never made WWE. Jericho-Cody Rhodes is the 9:15 p.m. filler match on Raw to create a break between big moments, and Kenny Omega would be in NXT if he ever got to WWE. They just don’t work as top guys for a big company. Yes, it will sell out because the smarks want to see their beloved indy guys, but if they’re thinking about a TV deal they need something different. They’d be better off bringing up young talent and promoting themselves as what NXT used to be before it got taken over by older guys. Anyway, we’ll predict another Murphy win.
Brad’s Breakdown and Prediction: If you couldn’t tell, Matt hates the new All Elite Wrestling promotion, even though it’s been in existence in name only for a few months (if even that long). Why does Straub hate it? Who knows. Straub hates a lot of things, and change would be one of them. You would think he’d welcome the competition for WWE, as the best wrestling era ever was when WWE went head-to-head with WCW and stole everything that was great from ECW. There was three battling promotions back then and the fans won in the end. Here, WWE can shovel you crap and you have to pick it up, because there is no alternative. Ring of Honor and TNA is only really there for the hardcore wrestling fan. NXT, if you’re like me, is fun to watch four or five times a year during its Takeover events. But AEW could be something and something is better than nothing. And starting at the top with Kenny Omega and Chris Jericho is a good thing. Not to mention, starting with a bunch of Indy guys is a good thing too, because if we remember, Straub’s current favorite, Seth Rollins, was an Indy guy. And most of the rest of the WWE roster were Indy guys at some point too. You have to create stars and if this AEW does that, then it will succeed, although it will take years and maybe decades to ever compete with WWE on a real level. Yes, Straub hates Kenny Omega and AEW, but he shouldn’t. And the best part? He knows it. He just wants to get heat as a contrarian. For the cruiserweight match, Buddy Murphy wins, unless he’s getting called up to the main roster, which happened with Mustafa Ali. Either would be fine, as Murphy is actually talented and is probably being wasted on a show nobody watches.
Intercontinental Champion Bobby Lashley & Lio Rush
vs. Finn Bálor (Handicap Match)
Matt’s Breakdown and Prediction: This is one of those WrestleMania angles we already can see coming, making Sunday just a way to get there. Balor will get his 1-on-1 match with Lashley, and likely the title, at the home of the Jets in April. To get there, he needs to get screwed out of the title here, which is why Rush is in the match. By the way, Rush can fly and has fairly strong heel mic skills. Why is he being wasted as a manager? He wouldn’t be better in the chamber than broken down Jeff Hardy? He wouldn’t be a better opponent for Murphy than whoever that guy is Murphy is fighting? Rush is at least under 205, unlike the fat guy Murphy fought last month. He was at least 220. How do the rules work there? Is it like boxing, where you have to be 205 at the weigh in, but then have two days to rehydrate and be about 30 pounds heavier come fight night? These are the important topics we cover at Gameday is Here. Anyway, Balor nearly beats them both, but they hold him off, leading Balor to a 1-on-1 match and the title down the line.
Brad’s Breakdown and Prediction: I want to pick Finn Balor to win the title, as he needs it and deserves it, and I was going to pick Finn Balor to do just that. But then Straub actually gave me hesitation and then, shocker, changed my mind. I’m stunned and I know everyone in cyberspace is too. Straub, the lover-hater of AEW, does sometimes make valid points as opposed to just trying to get cheap heel heat on his Twitter account. Hey, maybe that’s why he’s such a big fan of Lio Rush now. Forget Cena. Say no way to Reigns. Goodbye Rollins. See ya Ryback. Straub’s new favorite is LIO RUSH. Now that’s two shockers in this one breakdown. Score. Balor loses cheaply and gets revenge with his WrestleMania moment. (As the Demon? Please.)
Raw Women's Champion Ronda Rousey vs. Ruby Riott
Matt’s Breakdown and Prediction: OK, let’s cover the important thing first. Becky Lynch only got suspended so she can claw herself back into the Mania match and get her new blue collar worker thing over some more, even if it means literally copying every Stone Cold Steve Austin angle to get her pops. I fully expect her to drive a variety of vehicles, including a milk truck, to the ring in March. In the meantime, everyone calm down. She’ll be at Wrestlemania. Brad and I are probably going to have a viscous fight about her next month, so let me make it clear now: Lynch is awesome and deserves every push she gets. I just wish they were a little more original with her recent stuff. She’s two weeks away from chugging beers in the ring. Why are we spending so much time on Lynch now? Because she’s eventually going up against Ronda and Charlotte, and WWE cares so little about this match it announced the contest on Twitter. Unless Lynch and/or Flair show up and attack Rousey, this is the biggest waste of time all night. I will say this though: Rousey has come farther in a shorter time in the ring than just about any talent I can ever remember. We all lost our minds at how good she was until everyone decided to get behind Becky. That part I get, but I’ll never understand why the vocal minority of fans who turn on people just because they now like someone else can’t appreciate two people at once. Rousey gets unfairly compared to Roman Reigns just because Becky doesn’t drink tea on camera anymore. By the way, those fans who have crushed Roman in the past are going to absolutely explode for him when he comes back. Ronda, who to be fair is awful on the mic, has been rattled by the WWE Universe’s sudden turn, not realizing the same fans will go crazy for her again after her return from making a little Rowdy one.
Brad’s Breakdown and Prediction: Straub makes sure to always throw in the fact that Lynch is great, after many, many, many words saying how she isn’t great in the least. It’s almost like he’s afraid she’s going to come after him on Twitter, and murder him like she murders Ronda Rousey on a seemingly daily basis. So, yes, Straub can say all the nice things he wants about Becky, but the fact is he wants Ronda Rousey and Charlotte in the main event at WrestleMania and wants Lynch and her fans to quietly sit in the corner while it happens. And while I can see the Stone Cold comparisons, WWE actually has fallen short in that area. The comparisons end pretty quickly when they have Becky apologize in the ring. Did Steve Austin apologize, or did he respond by giving Vince a Stone Cold Stunner? WWE needs to let loose on Becky and go full Stone Cold. With Charlotte set up like the Rock, and Lynch Steve Austin, the possibility is there. Who exactly is Ronda Rousey in this situation, by the way? Now, I will always argue against the narrative that WrestleMania needs to bring in people who don’t watch wrestling, and that’s why Charlotte needs to be in the match with Rousey. Vince McMahon and Straub believe Charlotte is a household name, while every other sane person on the planet knows this isn’t true. You can put Ruby Riott against Ronda Rousey at WrestleMania and the same effect with the commoner is achieved. Charlotte isn’t needed. Build the match everyone wants to see, and that’s Becky vs. Ronda. This isn’t the Super Bowl. There are no watch parties with random people who don’t watch a lick of football the entire year. It will never be like that. Wrestling fans shouldn’t care about it either. Straub also seems to be confused why people hate Rousey. Wrestling fans don’t have to like Rousey. They can flat out reject her if they want. If she was more likeable and could actually put together a coherent sentence while speaking this might not be an issue, but those two things are true. It’s really not hard to see why wrestling fans don’t like her. Now, for the match. If Rousey had already lost, I’d pick Becky Lynch to interfere and cost her the title, the ultimate badass thing to do. Then, of course, Rousey would beat Ruby Riott the next night or whatever and get the belt back. But that won’t happen because Lynch has to be the one to beat Rousey at WrestleMania for her first loss. So, Rousey wins, Becky enters after the match, beats her up, and runs off through the crowd as security chases. It gets Becky her time to continue her build and gives even more hype to the match at WrestleMania. Charlotte? I don't know, maybe she stands on the ramp at the end. See, she has no part in this whatsoever.
Braun Strowman vs. Baron Corbin (No Disqualification Match)
Matt’s Breakdown and Prediction: You know who else is fickle? Vince McMahon. Strowman was on course to do something important at WrestleMania. Then he was allegedly late to some appearances, and instead of getting him a watch, they make him do whatever this is. This would have been interesting when Corbin was running Raw. Now, it will only be interesting if they use the stipulation to let Braun lift heavy things. They’ll either open the show with this or Balor, meaning the first person we see will get a big pop. Unfortunately, the early excitement will quickly die off, much like baseball’s free agency. Now they’re talking about Harper and Machado signing in March. By then their prices will have come down so much, the Yankees might add both just because they can. I can see Brian Cashman looking at his roster and payroll, assessing the free agent market, and adding at least one of the two big fish like Kevin Costner at the end of Draft Day. “And I want David Putney just because I feel like it!” In related news, I watched Draft Day last weekend. Costner starts the day with number seven, and ends up with one and seven in exchange for three second-rounders and number six, which he had gotten in the first flurry of trades. If you consider Putney his reward for trading down from six back to his original spot at seven, he basically got the top pick in the draft for three second-rounders. Considering the Jets gave that up to go from six to three last year, this is a phenomenal haul. Which reminds me, Brad, the Jets should totally trade down, maybe even twice, and pick up as many extra picks as possible. Meanwhile, Strowman has gone from WrestleMania moment to the guy whose match we use to delve into other stuff in the preview. Please don’t tell him. I don’t want to be the heavy thing he lifts.
Brad’s Breakdown and Prediction: Straub hates on the match, but I don’t think he’s really complaining, as he got to get a lot off his chest. Typically, I’d waste about three sentences on this, end with Strowman winning, and be done with it. But there’s a lot to get to, but don’t worry, I’ll make it all brief. 1. Strowman has basically been destroyed as a character. Lateness or not, this is nothing new. Strowman had his window but Vince McMahon didn’t take advantage. And now? Nobody cares. 2. Baseball free agency and the offseason is beyond boring. They need a complete overhaul. The biggest free agents available in the NFL will be signed within the first few hours of free agency. Even second- and third-tier guys will be signed on Day 1. That’s excitement. Major League Baseball needs some new ideas and fast. Plus, if I’m Brian Cashman, I’m making a call to Bryce Harper to see if he’ll do something for a ton of money but way short on years, something like $100 million for three years. 3. Draft Day was so dumb I’m shocked the NFL was part of it. Well, maybe not. 4. Sure, the Jets can trade down. They just need a team looking for a quarterback to move up. That’s probably going to be a lot to ask. OK, so maybe this wasn’t so brief, but I thank you for making it all the way through. Let us know on Twitter @gamedayishere what your predictions are and what you think of Straub’s hatred for AEW. Let him have it.