Written by: Scrooge McSuck
– Live on the WWE Network from the Talking Stick Resort Arena in Phoenix, AZ, with Mauro Ranallo, John “Bradshaw” Layfield, and David Otunga calling all the action, and Tom Phillips doing that voodoo that you do so well. This is the last PPV for Smackdown (Live) before WrestleMania. I’m watching this live, streaming on my Xbox instead of the PS4, and the difference in the quality of the stream is laughable. Don’t even bother watching live streams on a PS4. Trust me.
Kickoff Match: Mojo Rawley vs. Curt Hawkins:
Remember the weeks of vignettes promoting Hawkins… yeah, what a waste of time for a prelim guy. Almost as good as a joke as “The Makeover of Emma to Emmalina”, four months and counting. Hawkins took a shot at Gronk for doing nothing to win a Super Bowl ring, and called out Mojo at the same time, so there we go, backstory to the popcorn match. Hawkins spends the early moments hiding in the ropes until taking a cheap shot at Mojo, who responds by acting like a complete goof. Mojo controls until they take it to the floor, with Hawkins awkwardly sending Mojo into the side of the ring as we take a short break to advertise something on the WWE Network. We return with Hawkins in control of a chin-lock. He connects with a lariat and covers for several two counts. Mojo starts getting hyped and hits a fireman’s carry into an over-head slam for two. The referee gets nudged, buying Hawkins time to take a cheap shot and hit a Downward Spiral for two. Killing finishers with geeks is a great idea. Hawkins with an enzuigiri for two. Mojo mounts another comeback, hits the running forearm, and tilt-o-whirl slam gets three at 7:59. * A nothing preliminary match with a decent sequence of near falls at the end.
Becky Lynch vs. Mickie James:
It’s 7-years of frustration vs. a lifetime of Straight Fire™. Mickie made her WWE return, assisting Alexa Bliss as the mysterious Luchador, and is after Lynch for trying to take all the credit for the female Superstars and burying her accomplishments as an 11-time Women’s Champion. Lockup goes to the canvas and out of the ring. This is the longest collar-elbow lockup ever. Becky grabs the arm, but Mickie with a cartwheel into a counter. Mickie with shoulder blocks. Lynch counters, but Mickie hooks the rope. Lynch uses James’ momentum to send her through the ropes, then invites her back in. James gets knocked off the apron with a side-kick and Lynch follows with a diving forearm. James catches Lynch coming through the ropes and hits a single-arm DDT for a series of two counts. Snap mare and short arm-scissors by Mickie. Boot to the chest for two. James wraps the arm around the ropes and hooks a bridging hammer-lock. Lynch with rights to the midsection and forearms. Mickie counters a whip with a high kick and rams Becky shoulder-first into the post. Mickie with a spinning hurricanrana out of the corner. James with another boot for two. Becky fights out of a modified chicken-wing and they trade forearms. Becky blocks a kick and connects with clotheslines and a leg lariat. Exploder Suplex gets two. James avoids a charge and hits a flapjack. Seated senton from the top rope gets two. Becky springs off the ropes with a side-kick and hits a missile dropkick for two. Mickie counters a pump-handle slam with the Mick Kick, but Becky’s leg is under the ropes. She drags her to the center of the ring, but only gets a two count. Becky counters a DDT with a back drop. Mickie counters the Disarm-Her with a roll-up, but Becky counters that into a jackknife cover for three at 11:30. ***1/4 Solid opener, but it lacked time and I’m not the biggest fan of the “surprise roll-up finish”, but this wasn’t nearly the worst example I’ve ever seen.
– James Ellsworth and Carmella are watching from the Skybox, on James Ellsworth’s dime, of course. I’ve never seen someone eat Popcorn so unenthusiastically.
Kalisto & Apollo Crews vs. Dolph Ziggler:
Yes, a Handicap Match with the HEEL as the underdog, but Ziggler’s own arrogance is the reason for setting this match up, after attacking both men with a chair and bragging he could beat them at the same time. Ziggler attack Kalisto during his entrance and throws him into the set. Well, that is actually a smart move. Crews tackles Ziggler into the corner and pounds away. Ziggler with a right, but he runs into a counter-strike. Crews with a suplex, sending Dolph to the apron. Ziggler hangs him up across the top rope and gives him a hangman’s neck breaker across the middle rope. Back inside, Ziggler with another neck breaker for two. Jumping elbow drop across the back for two. Crews fights out of a chin-lock, blocks a Super-Kick, and rolls Ziggler up for two. Dolph pops up immediately and drops Crews with an elbow. Ziggler with a single-leg takedown for two. Ziggler hangs on with a chin-lock. Crews counters a neck breaker with a super-kick to the midsection. Ziggler pops up and hits a swinging neck breaker. Here comes Kalisto, dragging his leg and not getting a babyface reaction. Crews takes advantage of the distraction and nails Dolph with an enzuigiri. Kalisto tags in, because why not, and springs in with a reverse seated senton. Whip is reversed and Kalisto with a handspring roundhouse kick. Crews with the blind tag. Kalisto nails Dolph with a roundhouse kick and Crews with a sit-out Powerbomb for three at 7:21. Post-match, Ziggler does what he does best, taking a cheap shot at Kalisto and stomping a mudhole in Crews. He grabs a chair and gives Crews a Pillmanizer. *1/2 This was an OK match before bringing Kalisto back for the unfair advantage for the alleged good guys. The crowd responds as if Ziggler was a conquering hero.
WWE Tag Team Championship; Tag Team Turmoil Match:
American Alpha © vs. Heath Slater & Rhyno vs. The Usos vs. The Ascension vs. The Vaudevillains vs. Breezango:
Gauntlet Style Match, with the last team standing walking away as the Tag Team Champions. Heath Slater and Rhyno start with Tyler Breeze and Fandango. Slater and Fandango lockup and a break leads to Fandango giving a shimmy. Whip to the ropes and Fandango with a shoulder tackle. Slater with a hip toss and his own gyrations. Atomic drop into the corner. Breeze comes in and gets more of the same. Rhyno works the arm and hits a shoulder tackle. Rhyno with a short clothesline. Slater in for a double back elbow. Fandango blind tags and trips Slater up for some ground-and-pound. Fandango leaves Slater to hang out and dry and a double boot gets a near fall. Slater goes for a sunset flip, but Fandango blocks and drops some fashion tickets on him. Slater surprises him with a jumping heel kick for two. Slater with an O’Connor Roll for two. Rhyno with the tag, and he kills Fandango with the GORE~! for three at 4:35.
The Vaudevillains (Simon Gotch and Aiden English) are next. They pull Rhyno to the floor and send him hard into the barricade. They’ve already outlasted my official prediction for how long before their elimination. Slater comes off the top with a body press on both Vaudevillains and rolls Rhyno in to tag himself in. English puts the boots to him and a drops a knee for two. Gotch with knees and a spinning kick to the chest. Gotch with a fireman’s carry roll. Slater avoids the senton bomb and a Implant DDT eliminates the Vaudevillains at 6:47 (clock not refreshed).
Jimmy and Jey Uso are next. Slater pounds on Jimmy with rights, but a sidekick knocks him silly. Whip to the ropes and Slater with a diving forearm. Rhyno with the tag. Whip to the corner is reversed and Rhyno gets worked over in the Usos corner. Jey with a diving forearm for two. Rhyno explodes out of the corner with a clothesline. Slater with the tag and comes off the top with a sledge. Slater with rights and lefts to Jey. Whip to the ropes, Jey sidesteps a heel kick and connects with a Pop-Up Samoan drop for two. Rhyno gets knocked to the floor. Jimmy with the blind tag and a Super-Kick finishes Slater at 9:46.
American Alpha (Chad Gable and Jason Jordan) are next. The Usos charge the aisle for a brawl on the ramp. Back in the ring and American Alpha with synchronized German Suplexes. Gable with a flying body press on Jey for two. Jimmy with a cheap shot from the apron, allowing Jey to take control. Back breaker and elbow drop for two. Gable with a chest-first bump to the corner for two. Jey with a super-kick to the midsection. Jimmy with a jumping leg drop for two. Gable fights both Usos, but can’t reach his corner. Gable knocks Jey off the apron and a double clothesline with Jimmy leaves both men laid out. Jordan with the hot tag, running over Jey with forearms. He connects with a dropkick and throws Jimmy overhead. Belly-to-belly suplex to Jey. He lifts Jey in the Electric Chair, but Jey counters. Gable is the legal man, and a rolling cradle eliminates Jey at 15:26. Jey, the sore sport he is, lays out Gable with a Super-Kick. They double team Gable and Jordan, leaving Gable laying on the arena floor and hitting a Splash off the top rope on Jordan before finally exiting the ring area.
The Ascension (Viktor and Konnor) are the last team, unless we get a surprise entry. Konnor has a new mask that looks not unlike Twisty the Clown’s from AHS: Freaks. They pick the bones of Jordan, hitting Fall of Man, but Gable dives in to make the save. Konnor picks up Gable with ease and drops him across the top rope. Instead of going for another cover, they just stomp away on Jordan. Konnor with a corner avalanche and Viktor with a jumping high knee for a near fall. Viktor misses a dive to the corner and Jordan with an overhead belly-to-belly suplex. Gable with the hot tag. Konnor pulls him off the apron, but he rushes in for Grand Amplitude, Jordan dives to knock Konnor from entering the ring, and American Alpha retain at 21:06. **1/2 I’ve never been a fan of rating each individual match since it’s technically one bell-to-bell match. The first few falls were fine, and the match picked up adding the underdog element for American Alpha. The crowd reaction is still concerning.
Nikki Bella vs. Natalya:
This all began when Natalya attacked Nikki at Survivor Series, and then weeks of lying lead to her confession, which then turned into her mocking Nikki that John Cena won’t marry her, won’t have kids with her, and would be with her (Natalya) if she weren’t already married. Oh, and she’s going to die alone. I forgot about that part. Nikki is sporting Phoenix Suns inspired attire (Purple and Orange). I’m assuming that’s their colors. I don’t watch the NBA much these days. Nattie with the “You Can’t See Me” gesture and a slap. She grabs headlocks, but Nikki counters each time with a head scissors. Nikki kicks the knee and goes for a cross arm-breaker (in slow motion), but Natalya escapes. Natalya sweeps the legs for ground-and-pound. Nattie with waist-lock takedowns to showcase her superior wrestling skills. Nikki counters another into a knee-lock, but Natalya makes it to the ropes. She follows Nattie to the floor, coming off the apron with a clothesline. Natalya lures her to the floor again and sends Nikki back-first into the post (or at least, that was the intended body part, since her elbow barely grazed it). Nattie with a snap suplex and kick to the back. Snap mare and rear basement dropkick. Nikki escapes a chin-lock, but gets laid out with a clothesline. She takes time to wave at Nikki’s momma and gets rolled up for two. Nattie with a spinning toe hold, trying to get the crowd into the match by taunting them with a “Nikki Sucks” chant. Nikki counters into the STF, but Nattie makes it to the ropes, again. Nikki with a diving shoulder tackle and dropkick. Knee to the face for two. Natalya with a Michinoku Driver for two. Nikki blocks the sharpshooter and connects with a forearm for two. Nattie escapes the Rack Attack 2.0, but gets planted with a spine buster for two. Nikki with a springboard kick for two. Natalya climbs up with Nikki on the top rope and connects with a Super-Plex. Nattie with the Sharpshooter, but Nikki counters into the STF. Nattie somehow makes it to the ropes. Natalya pulls Nikki to the floor and they trade blows until Natalya rams her into the barricade. Nikki fights back, returning the favor, but ignores the count and we have a Double Count-Out at 13:18. Post-match, Nikki spears Natalya on the ramp after taking a cheap shot in the ring. *** I didn’t like it as much as the opener, especially with the weak finish, but they did a good job for what they were going for. Started a bit rocky, but it picked up late.
Luke Harper vs. Randy Orton:
What an odd concept, where Harper is technically the face and Orton the heel, but the crowd still responds like Orton’s one of the top faces on the roster. Harper disconnected himself from the Wyatt Family when Bray decided to make Orton his new favorite. Pointless commentary: I spent about 4-hours watching Randy Orton’s latest DVD set earlier today, so I might be burned out on Orton matches. I just noticed the ring posts are the more standard versions, probably to accommodate the Chamber. Lockup and clean break. Whip to the ropes and Harper with a clothesline for two. Harper follows Orton to the floor and pounds away. Back inside, Harper with a running dropkick. He climbs the ropes, but Orton knocks him off to the arena floor. Back inside, Orton with a hard whip to the corner. He tosses Harper through the ropes and drops him back-first across the announcers table. Harper’s comeback is cut short, being hung out to dry. Orton with the modified version of the Garvin Stomp. Harper fights out of another chin-lock and connects with forearms. He hops over the top rope, and hits a slingshot senton. Running boot gets a near fall.
Orton kicks out of Harper’s grip, but Harper counters the draping DDT by snapping him across the top rope. Harper with a catapult between the bottom and middle ropes. Orton rolls to the floor and counters a tope suicida with a forearm. Harper tosses him to the floor again and connects on the second try, knocking Orton flying into the German announcers. Harper with some payback, dropping Orton across the announcers table this time. Orton recovers before further damage is done, and plants Harper on the floor with a snap Power-Slam. Back inside, Harper teases a Super-Plex to the floor, but Orton counters with his own Super-Plex, but a long delay in making the cover means it only gets a two count. They trade blows, but the RKO is blocked. Orton ducks under a clothesline and plants Harper with a Full Nelson Slam for two. Orton finally hits the draping DDT. Harper hits a Super-Kick before he could go for the RKO. Another Super-Kick for a near fall. The do a series of counters until Harper hits a kick to the midsection and sit-out Powerbomb for two. They trade blows from their knees. Orton blocks the Discus Clothesline and the RKO Out of Nowhere gets three at 17:13. ***3/4 This almost matched my high expectations, but the first 5-minutes was too slow. The match picked up after the rest-holds and they paced out the near falls for the finish without making it seem like over-kill.
– Natalya and Nikki Bella have ANOTHER pull-apart brawl, and somehow get Maryse involved for some comedy. Is this leading to a Falls Count Anywhere Match or something? Maybe a Boiler Room Brawl.
WWE Women’s Championship Match:
Alexa Bliss (c) vs. Naomi:
There shouldn’t be much doubt here. Naomi is the #3 babyface on the Smackdown Women’s Roster. This is your classic “filling time” token title defense to fill out a card that has too many top names in one match. Hopefully it’s short, based on expectations. Naomi with a quick roll up for two. Bliss throws her gum at Naomi to get her fired up. Naomi with a roundhouse kick from the apron, but Bliss counters a springboard attempt. Bliss with stomps and choking in the corner. Naomi goes for a bulldog but gets thrown hard into the buckle. Alexa rides Naomi’s hair and hooks a chin-lock. Bliss with a counter and roll up for two. Naomi with a crucifix for two. Both with strikes at the same time, knocking the other down. Naomi comes off the ropes with a clothesline and back elbow. Naomi’s somersault clothesline meets air, but Alexa sells it anyway. Naomi with a Block Buster for two. Bliss runs into the Rear View, but it only gets two. Bliss uses the referee as a shield to hit a cheap shot and hits the Insult-2-Injury for two. Naomi surprises Bliss with a jumping enzuigiri, knocking her out o the ring. Bliss blocks a dive and hits a snap DDT for two. Naomi misses the split-legged moonsault, and Bliss uses the ropes for a roll-up, but the referee sees it and stops the count. Bliss to the top with Twisted Bliss, but Naomi gets the knees up, and the split-legged moonsault gets three at 8:19!? Well, that is a surprise. *1/2 Besides the ring experience problem (Bliss) and overall a weak performer (Naomi), this match was put in an unenviable spot on the card.
– James Ellsworth tells Dasha Fuentes to scram for bothering Carmella one-too-many times.
WWE Championship; Elimination Chamber Match:
John Cena © vs. Dean Ambrose vs. A.J. Styles vs. Bray Wyatt vs. The Miz vs. Baron Corbin:
Main Event! The Chamber is slightly different, looking more box shaped than circular. Four of the Six participants have been WWE Champion before, with Corbin and Wyatt the two without. Neither has won a singles title, period. A.J. Styles and John Cena start the match to get us off to the best possible start. I honestly expected Ambrose vs. Miz, but I’ve been wrong all night. Lockup, Cena with a side headlock and shoulder tackle. Styles with a side headlock. Crisscross and Styles with a kick to the leg. Cena with rights, but misses a charge. Styles lifts him up for the Torture Rack into a spin-out Powerbomb for two. Cena counters a Styles Clash and hits the Code Red for two. They trade blows until Cena picks the leg. Styles boots him off and hits the Ushigoroshi for a near fall. Styles misses a dive to the corner. Cena with diving shoulder tackles and a back suplex. He teases the Five-Knuckle Shuffle, but the countdown begins.
Dean Ambrose joins the match next and hits Cena with a diving clothesline. He tosses him over the top onto the more forgiving floor, then introduces him into the chains. Styles gets a taste of the chains and clotheslined back into the ring. Ambrose counters a suplex and drops Styles with a release suplex drop. Ambrose climbs to the top of his pod and dives off with the big elbow. Styles and Cena fight over a waist-lock until Cena wakes up for a Super-Sized German Suplex. Hot sequence that lead to a Pele Kick to Cena and Ambrose nailing Styles with the Lunatic Lariat, perfectly timed from all three. The interval for this round was only 4:00 before the countdown.
Bray Wyatt is the 4th man in and hits Cena with the diving body press. Power suplex to Ambrose. Styles ducks a charge, but his springboard attempt leads to him being thrown into the chamber chains. He charges and meets the post. Styles with a kick to the chest and a springboard guillotine leg drop. Cena catches up with Styles, but can’t keep him up for the AA. Styles climbs the chains, but Cena follows. They trade blows until Cena comes crashing down. Styles ends up on top of the Miz’s pod with Ambrose. Ambrose slams his face into the plastic, leaving him a broken mess. He drops off and gets nailed on the way down by Wyatt. They slug it out on the top rope. Styles comes back to life and gets flung across the ring in a unique Tower of Doom spot.
Baron Corbin is the 5th man in. Ambrose greets him with forearms, but runs into a clothesline. Corbin tosses Ambrose out of the ring and crushes him against the chains. Back inside, he misses an avalanche. Ambrose runs into Deep Six. Wyatt attacks from behind with clubbering blows. He teases a uranage, but Corbin throws him into Miz’s pod and lays him out with a boot. Corbin follows itup with a modified STO. Styles with a flurry of strikes, but runs into an End of Days. Cena recovers to trap Corbin in the STF, but he powers free and hits Cena with End of Days. Ambrose comes off the top with a missile dropkick and clotheslines Corbin over the top rope. Corbin uses Ambrose as a javelin, sending Ambrose into the chains. Corbin counters Dirty Deeds and shoves Ambrose off the top into the chains.
Miz is our final man to enter, and isn’t too thrilled to leave his pod with Corbin waiting for him. Ambrose surprises Corbin with a roil up for three at 18:37! He nails Ambrose from behind with a lariat and throws him through one of the pods! Corbin punishes him further with forearms to the back of the neck and an End of Days as the exclamation mark. Miz, of course, takes advantage of this and eliminates Ambrose at 20:42. Miz with Yes-Kicks to Cena and Wyatt, followed by a double dropkick. Miz with kicks in the corner to Styles, and running corner dropkicks to all three remaining opponents. Miz with the Awesome Clothesline to Cena. Wyatt pulls him off the top and gets a Skull Crushing Finale on the floor. Cena rolls through a body press and plants Miz with the AA for the elimination of Miz at 23:29. Styles and Wyatt’s alliance lasts all of 15-seconds. Cena avoids the running senton and hits Styles with shoulder tackles and a back suplex. Back suplex to Wyatt, and Five-Knuckle shuffle to both. AA to Bray Wyatt. Styles counters the AA with the Styles Clash, but only gets two. Cena avoids the Phenomenal Forearm and hits the AA for two. Cena climbs to the top of a pod and connects with a flying body press on Wyatt and Styles. Wyatt counters the AA with Sister Abigail and eliminates Cena at 29:07!
We’re left with A.J. Styles and Bray Wyatt to fight for the WWE Title. Wyatt knocks him down with a body tackle and does some ground-and-pound to the back of the head. Wyatt charges but gets his legs swept from under him with a baseball slide. Styles with a diving forearm to a seated Wyatt for a near fall. Wyatt pops up with the Spider Walk and goes for Sister Abigail, but Styles counters with a roll up for two. Styles with the striking blitz, but Wyatt nails him with a short lariat for two. Styles escapes a uranage and connects with the Pele Kick and Shining Wizard. Styles with the springboard 450 Splash for two! Wyatt counters the Phenomenal Forearm, and Sister Abigail finishes at 34:28, giving Wyatt his 1st WWE Championship. ****3/4 The best Elimination Chamber match I’ve ever seen, with plenty of action, great sequences and well-structured eliminations. The match never dragged, gave everyone a chance to shine, and showcased some incredible near falls and high spots.
Final Thoughts: The weak card on paper delivered an entertaining three-plus hours of wrestling, with an outstanding Main Event, a great undercard match between Orton and Harper, and two solid performances from Lynch/James and Natalya/Nikki. The Tag Team Turmoil was so-so, but nothing offensive, and the low-expectations of the Handicap Match managed to be matched. Bliss/Naomi wasn’t so bad, but the finish is questionable and it was on a tough part of the card. The Main Event alone is worth a recommendation, but there’s some good stuff underneath before you get there.