There's no question that the Raws leading into Elimination Chamber were some of the best shows the Red brand had produced in weeks. By focusing rather strictly on the main event scene, Raw crafted weeks of tension out of what's potentially a stale premise: who will face Brock Lesnar at WrestleMania? The show managed to make every single member of the men's elimination chamber match feel like a threat, even if deep down we knew that guys like The Miz and Elias didn't have a chance of winning. A thrilling two-hour gauntlet match at the go-home show set up stories not only for the chamber, but for the final stretch before WrestleMania.
This focus on the men's main event did have its drawbacks though. Injuries and a thin division have left the tag team scene feeling rather lifeless, even with Titus Worldwide shaking things up. The women's chamber match is certainly historic in and of itself, but that also doesn't mean much when the build barely produced anything compelling. The question, then, became whether the Elimination Chamber card was top heavy, with two chamber matches that would likely deliver, and not much else going on elsewhere.
The first ever women's chamber match delivers the goods
As it turns out, Elimination Chamber as a whole seemed to (for the most part) accomplish everything it needed to, and that begins with the women's elimination chamber match. It's an incredible showing for the women that does all the work the empty words from marketing simply can't. Bliss leaving the chamber with her championship will certainly be a divisive choice, but everything else is booked perfectly. Bayley gets to look like a million bucks for the first time in awhile because she has to rise to the occasion of the chamber, which means being more vicious and focused. Of course, she still gets screwed after trusting Sasha Banks again. There's Absolution too, who finally get to look like a dominant force. Their time in this match tells us what they can do when they're a focused team. From there, Mickie James gets a great momentum spot before things shift to Bayley vs. Banks vs. Bliss.
While I think the match could have used more Mickie James—Raw continues to not really use her in any meaningful way, and it's a shame because she's one of the best workers in the division—the final three makes a lot of sense. You get to keep moving Sasha in the direction of a heel, give Bayley the moment where it seems like she's going to eliminate Sasha and have Bliss to herself, and the final spot of Bliss coming in last, doing just enough to outlast her superiors. Without looking ahead to what this could mean for WrestleMania—Bliss vs. Asuka doesn't sound very exciting at all, but it looks like perhaps Nia isn't out of the picture just yet—this is exactly the kind of match you want to have for the first time the women step into the chamber.
The chemistry of Asuka and Nia Jax
The middle section of the show that fills in the time between chamber matches runs the gamut from serviceable to exciting. Asuka and Nia Jax put on the best match of that stretch. Nia's a good dance partner for the Empress of Tomorrow because she does feel like a physical threat. She's not the best wrestler, but she's got just enough to bring Asuka to the edge. This match follows a similar formula to their previous bout. Nia dominates most of the match, but it's not like Asuka looks weak. It's more that she takes a significant amount of time to gain the upper hand. Eventually, she finds her opening, and that's it, Nia is done. The mystique of Asuka continues, and Nia still looks like a formidable foe in the process.
The tag team title match is a little less exciting, but it's still a match that does exactly what it needs to. Could Titus Worldwide have pulled off an upset and set up some interesting stories for Raw leading into WrestleMania? Absolutely. But it wasn't necessary, at least not yet. This match is about making sure Titus Worldwide get a showcase that they simply can't on the weekly show. They get more time to do their thing, and show the crowd what they look like when the stakes are high. The crowd isn't super into the team, but, nonetheless, I think their dynamic is working. Both Titus and Apollo work as hot tags, and their in-ring styles provide a nice contrast to one another.
From Woken to sleepy real quick
As for Matt Hardy and Bray Wyatt, I'm not even sure what to say. It's a Raw match inserted into a PPV. I'm not sure what it accomplishes. As Bleacher Report's Ryan Dilbert pointed out on Twitter, there's a lot of telling and very little showing going on, as commentary keeps telling us about the weirdness of this feud without actually indulging in that weirdness in any way. The only way this feud gains some traction is by leaning into something truly absurd. The laughing and the disappearing isn't enough.
Oh hey, it's Roman Reigns
That brings us to the most anticipated segments of the night: the men's chamber match to determine who will face Brock Lesnar at WrestleMania, and the signing of Ronda Rousey. They actually end up being eerily similar, in that there's a lot of very good stuff in there, but also some moments that make you cringe. Rousey, for the most part, is the source of the cringe; or, at least the way the segment is structured seems to work against her. When she comes out to sign her contract, she's smiley, happy, and tearing up. She's grateful for the opportunity. It's a strange look, one that doesn't feel of a piece with the video packages, and one that certainly doesn't compare well with the debut of fellow MMA fighter Shayna Baszler. The segment ends well enough though, after a terribly stilted and nervous promo, with Rousey slamming Triple H through a table after Kurt Angle reveals management's true feelings about Rousey. That no nonsense version of Rousey is incredible. The rest? Not so much.
As for the men's chamber match, it's very similar to the women's: everything is great until the divisive finish. Part of me had already resigned myself to the fact that Reigns would once again be main-eventing WrestleMania and facing Brock Lesnar, but at the same time, the execution is disappointing. Nearly everyone in this match has a story to tell outside of Roman. Yes, Roman was perhaps robbed of a title at WrestleMania 31, but that story feels like it was ages ago. What's current Roman Reigns' claim to the spot? At least Rollins had Monday night to make his case, and Cena continues to have his record-breaking 17th championship win in his back pocket.
Of course, nobody has more evidence as to why he should face Brock Lesnar than Braun Strowman. He's run over the entire roster on his way to the Elimination Chamber, and he eliminated every single participant except for Reigns. But rather than giving Strowman the spot he deserves, we're back to Reigns. After months of WWE handling him really well, using him as an integral piece on Raw while not making him the absolute focus, he's back at the top. That's not inherently a bad thing, but within this run, and this story, it feels like a choice removed from any actual storytelling, and that's tremendously disappointing.
- I love the swagger Nia Jax shows during her Samoan Drop.
- Kurt Angle was delightfully weird tonight, but boy was that segment a mess.
- Sasha Banks and Bayley absolutely kill it in the chamber match. Main roster WWE has been missing that fire from those two for awhile.
- The men's chamber match really gets off to a slow start, and that doesn't help counteract the inevitable finish.
- Strowman eliminating Cena felt so huge, and commentary basically no-sold it.
- To recap: as of right now, Raw's two main singles title matches at WrestleMania are Alexa Bliss vs. Asuka, and Brock Lesnar vs. Roman Reigns.
Alexa Bliss (c) defeated Sasha Banks, Bayley, Mickie James, Sonya Deville, and Mandy Rose (Raw Women's Championship match); The Bar defeated Titus Worldwide (Raw Tag Team Championship match); Asuka defeated Nia Jax; Matt Hardy defeated Bray Wyatt; Roman Reigns defeated Braun Strowman, Seth Rollins, Finn Balor, The Miz, and Elias.
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