Two Miles of Chain But Not That Horny: WWE Elimination Chamber Recap and Review

The Elimination Chamber is a ridiculous concept. We’ve had it for 18 years now, and while it’s capable of generating drama (which we’ll get to later), the TWO MILES OF CHAIN and FOUR LEXAN PODS and the, uh, REGULATION WRESTLING RING are all kind of rote at this point. You’ve seen people get thrown into the chains. You’ve seen people jump off the pods. You’ve seen people get thrown through the pods. And, every once in awhile, one of these matches will actually be good. Something that’s impossible not to notice about Elimination Chamber 2020 is that the fans in Philadelphia were, for the most part, not into either of the Elimination Chamber matches on offer, sitting on their hands through most of them, coming alive for the occasional spot. WWE shows hinge on the reaction of the live crowd, but hey, people have bad taste and it’s possible that Elimination Chamber was great! (It wasn’t.) Let’s find out, together!

Daniel Bryan def. Drew Gulak

The thing about Daniel Bryan is that, unless you just started watching wrestling yesterday, you know his neck is fucked. This match is built around that knowledge, it exploits that knowledge, and man does it rule. I love the story of this match, that Bryan was an influence on Gulak, who watched hours and hours of Bryan’s matches, knew his game better than Bryan did, and was capable of exploiting the flaws he perceived in that game. That Gulak was right was a piece of delicious storytelling, as he had answers for every submission, strike, and counter of Bryan’s, many of them (like an early exchange where Gulak turned Bryan’s reversal of a headscissors into a tiny piledriver) incredible … and then Gulak suplexed Bryan right on his goddamn head.

It was beautiful—a ridiculously high angle, Bryan leaving Gulak’s arms, crashing down on his head and neck. I screamed. Literally. I’m used to the idea of wrestlers with a history of neck injuries taking suplexes, but Daniel Bryan was the subject of so many thinkpieces about whether or not he should compete, too many GIF threads of fans overanalyzing whether or not his coworkers were being safe enough. In that respect, Gulak’s suplex was completely insane, a moment that will stand out as one of the highlights of 2020.

How was the rest of the match, you ask? Incredible. My beat being what it is, I’m not as caught up on the wider world of wrestling as I’d like to be, but it’s the best American wrestling match I’ve seen this year. Despite (or maybe because of) its brutality, this felt like a joyous occasion, two great wrestlers bringing out the best in each other, as great wrestlers should. It’s a party, y’all. A party where you’re gonna get your neck stretched out and your shoulder pulled out of socket, but that’s the kind of thing I’m into.

Grade: Necks are dumb, and I’d rather have a good wrestling match than a good neck any day of the week. This was an incredible wrestling match, so fuck off, necks.

Promo: Dolph Ziggler and Robert Roode talked. They should talk less often.

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WWE United States Championship: Andrade (c) def. Humberto Carrillo

Andrade started this match with the Judas Effect, but in a show of disrespect to the Painmaker Chris Jericho, in the WWE it’s just a back elbow, and a whole wrestling match happened afterwards. That match, it should be said, was good! Like most of the Elimination Chamber card, it had to contend with a largely disinterested crowd, but once this picked up there were a bunch of good spots, including a Rey Mysterio esque tope con hiro over the referee. I’m a sucker for any match where ripping up the mats on the floor is part of the action, and appreciated that that was a red herring for the finish, an exciting series of pinfall reversals that finished with Andrade pulling the tights.

Grade: I texted a picture of Andrade to a friend who saw him live once and said “still hot.” He replied “damn straight.” This was a good match, I’d tell him. Damn straight, he’d say.

Promo: AJ Styles is going to beat Aleister Black. It’s a no-DQ match, so he’s gonna beat him real bad. Styles is a good comedy heel promo, and I love the phrase “criss-cross applesauce,” so it was a nice way to pass a moment.

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Elimination Chamber match for the SmackDown Tag Team Championships: The Miz and John Morrison (c) def. Dolph Ziggler and Robert Roode, Heavy Machinery, the New Day, the Usos, and Lucha House Party

One of the things people think about criticism is that it goes down easier when you start with praise, so I’ll say this—Otis rules. So does Tucker, but Otis is something else, man. He’s got that weird, big boy energy to him, a vibe that I don’t want to hang out with so much as I want to appreciate it from afar. He and Ziggler are beefing at the moment, and the Elimination Chamber was home to the latest battle in the unending war between fat bois and aging twinks.

The problem is that this match … kinda sucked. I was so bored between its big spots that Hunktears suggested I keep photos of Hiroshi Tanahashi on hand to see me through. Sometimes the spots they were building towards—Tucker’s senton off the pod, Otis crashing through another pod—were very good. Other times, like when Lince Dorado disappeared for awhile so that he could monkeybar his way to the center of the structure and shooting star press a crowd of wrestlers who magically appeared below him, somehow leading to his team’s elimination—I was reminded that wrestling is fake and that I’m a fool for enjoying it. Everybody tried, but this match, and the WWE tag team division in general, felt like purgatory.

Grade: Internet pioneer Strong Bad once described college radio as “dead air … um … dead air.” That’s this match.

Promo: Natalya talked about Beth Phoenix as if taking the RKO was akin to being shot. That, she said, would motivate her in her match. That’s bad motivation, and this was a bad promo!

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No Disqualification Match: Aleister Black def. AJ Styles

Purgatory being an unknowable length of time suspended between heaven and hell, this match was determined to do nothing for me and succeeded. It’s not that Black or Styles are bad—both of them are, in fact, good. Outside of some decent legwork by Styles, nothing happened until the Undertaker’s gong hit. He and AJ Styles have unfinished business from Saudi Arabia, so that meant AJ took a chokeslam in his moment of glory, Black capitalized on his spooky predecessor’s help, and goddamn it the Undertaker is going to WrestleMania.

Grade: C+ for now, but if Undertaker recruits Black and rechristens him the Sondertaker, A+.

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Raw Tag Team Championship: The Street Profits (c) def. Seth Rollins and Murphy

Early on in this match, Jerry Lawler kept complaining that the WWE shouldn’t be fun and I thought, “mission accomplished.” I feel like a lot of my critique of this show can start with the phrase “it’s not that ____ is bad,” because it didn’t really matter what these two teams, the matches preceding it, and the match that followed it did—nobody in Philly was into it. And if a structured garbage brawl like Black/Styles needs the crowd’s attention to be good, that’s especially true of a tag team match—something already structured around the hot tag—where shenanigans are involved. The best part of this match involved Kevin Owens walking to the ring with a box of popcorn, which Lawler speculated was his dinner. Like, look old man, I’m a millennial woman in the prime of my life, I am depressed 90% of the year, and sometimes popcorn is dinner, okay? Seth Rollins knows what I mean—he was so distracted by Owens and his meal that he got pounced into the barricade by Angelo Dawkins. Murphy was easy pickings for Dawkins and Ford after that. Oh, and Owens hit a stunner on Rollins after the match.

Grade: Made me want popcorn, but I always want popcorn. Popcorn is pretty good, y’all.

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WWE Intercontinental Championship: Sami Zayn, Cesaro, and Shinsuke Nakamura def. Braun Strowman (c)

God, this match. When I looked at the card the other day and saw it, I nearly wept, for it would be the destruction of everything pure, lovely, and good in wrestling. I’ve seen a lot of three on one handicap matches lately, and they very rarely go well for the team. So out comes Sami, hair super lush, dressed like Castro, joined by his buds from Switzerland and Japan, ready to be fed to the unholy engine of these United States. The story here is that Strowman wants to get his hands on Sami, but Sami is a coward smart man who keeps getting Cesaro and Nakamura involved instead, outsmarting Braun when he does his choo-choo train bullshit by hiding under the ring. That allowed Nakamura to Kinshasa Strowman into the ringpost, leading to a triple team suplex/Helluva Kick combination for the win. At long last, Sami Zayn wins a main roster singles championship.

Grade: A miracle. A shitty, onerous miracle, but a miracle never the less. May Sami reign one million years.

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Elimination Chamber match to determine the number one contender to the Raw Women’s Championship: Shayna Baszler def. Asuka, Ruby Riott, Liv Morgan, Natalya, and Sarah Logan

Up until Shayna Baszler stepped into the ring, this Elimination Chamber match was trying to make you think that one of its undercurrents was the implosion of the Riott Squad, the Ruby Riott/Liv Morgan/Sarah Logan trio that absolutely meant something to someone at some point in time. That, coupled with how goddamn banged up poor Natalya was getting, was merely the app before the main meal. Liv didn’t even get a chance to come into the ring before Baszler choked out her former partners, then she and Auska had to watch as Baszler repeatedly crushed Nattie with a sliding door before she got choked out. Three women gone in less than three minutes.

Here’s the thing about that—however well it played on live TV (and that’s a pretty subjective standard), making the live crowd wait the whole two minutes for Liv to come out of her pod was not kind to the live audience. I think it’s possible to play off their boos as them booing Baszler, but that’s clearly not what was happening. Watching on TV, you got the joy of Asuka endlessly shittalking Baszler, a queen absolutely unafraid of the beast before her, but how is someone in the upper bowl of the arena supposed to see that with all the chains and pods and steel beams?

All of which leads to the question of whether or not this was a good match. I’m leaning towards yes. I like Baszler a lot, and I think the fact that she wasn’t an MMA superstar on the order of Brock Lesnar or Ronda Rousey makes her a killer who can be believably beaten. Given modern WWE storytelling, that’s incredibly valuable, so having her rip through the Raw women’s undercard is a very good way of building her up. And man, the way she utilized the pod, when she utilized the pod, was pretty brutal. Nattie getting wrecked by the sliding door was one thing, but when Liv got in she was wanged into the chains, then the pod, which she sold by crying. It ruled.

But when Liv got choked out, we had to contend with empty space again, looking at the calm confidence of Baszler and the manic confidence of Asuka. Compared to shots of Becky Lynch placidly watching this match on television, this ruled and made me want to see an Asuka/Baszler match where the circumstances were different, but again, you’re asking the audience to deal with silence, which isn’t fair to them. Asuka withstands Baszler’s assault for awhile, even gets the Asuka Lock on, but by this point you know this ends with Shayna Baszler pointing at the WrestleMania sign, and after Asuka passes out in the Kirifuda Clutch, that’s what she does.

Grade: A match that was good for me, but not necessarily good for anybody in the crowd. Baszler’s already a star, and crushing the women’s roster didn’t really elevate her so much as formalize the inevitable, but if she and Lynch kill it at WrestleMania, we’ll be seeing clips from this match in bad documentaries for the rest of our lives.

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Colette Arrand

Colette Arrand is a minor transsexual poet and nu-metal enthusiast.

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