Hello AW Universe,
The final PPV stop on the Road to WrestleMania 36 did exactly what it had to: serve its purpose.
Here is a recap and review of the event.
Daniel Bryan d. Drew Gulak
Andrade d. Umberto Carrillo to retain the United States Championship
The Miz & John Morrison d. The Usos, The New Day, Dolph Ziggler & Robert Roode, Heavy Machinery, Lucha House Party to retain the SmackDown Tag Team Championship in an Elimination Chamber match
Aleister Black d. AJ Styles in a No Disqualification match
Street Profits d. Seth Rollins & Murphy to retain the RAW Tag Team Championship
Sami Zayn Shinsuke Nakamura Cesaro d. Braun Strowman in a 1-on-3 Handicap match, Zayn wins the Intercontinental Championship
Shayna Baszler d. Asuka, Liv Morgan, Natayla, Ruby Riott, and Natalya in a RAW Women’s Championship #1 Contender Elimination Chamber match
Daniel Bryan vs. Drew Gulak
Daniel Bryan on a Sunday Night Heat is a sin, and Drew Gulak is been an underutilised talent since his 108 days reign as Cruiserweight Champion starting last June.
All that being said, their match was incredible.
It featured sublime storytelling between the two, who have amazing chemistry. It was a fantastic display of technical holds and suplexes, with Bryan hitting a gorgeous Dragon suplex into a bridge, while Gulak’s were a little stiffer, with a release-German suplex that dropped Bryan right on his neck.
This was a key point of the in-ring storytelling– and props to Michael Cole and Corey Graves for putting it over too– as Bryan’s injured neck became a key target for Gulak.
Bryan picked up the submission win, but Gulak’s heel tactics and mocking of Bryan made this feel like the first match in a long series that just a won-off.
Andrade vs. Umberto Carrillo
United States Championship
This was a well-worked match, really putting over the more aggressive side to Carrillo. The crowd definitely got into it too, and the two certainly have chemistry together but there’s something about this feud that just feels tired and over-done, particularly the “going to tear up the padding on the outside.” We get it: Andrade is willing to go to extreme lengths to win the match. And with Carrillo falling short once again to win the title, one has to wonder if this rivalry is going to limo through WrestleMania season.
As talented as Carrillo is, it seems he needs to move on to a new program, and possibly paring him with a good manager could be what he needs to take the next step.
The Miz & John Morrison vs. The New Day vs. Lucha House Party vs. The Usos vs. Heavy Machinery vs. Dolph Ziggler & Robert Roode Elimination Chamber Match
SmackDown Tag Team Championship
The first Elimination Chamber match was full of wicked high spots, mostly at the hands of Lucha House Party whose style looked like it had been lifted from an AEW show; the biggest of their spots was undoubtedly Lince Dorado hanging from the ceiling like Spider-man and dropping down onto everyone else in the ring. This led then led to their immediate elimination, as Gran Metalik ate a Trash Compactor tandem finisher from Heavy Machinery.
And with Heavy Machinery, the Otis/Ziggler storyline was perfectly infused into this match, as though they did touch, there was never the huge aggressive blowoff from Otis, meaning they can squeeze a little more juice from this feud. It was pretty shocking to set Heavy Machinery go out the way they did, as it seemed like it was setting up to be a hot babyface comeback for Otis after he bowled through the plexiglass pod. But it is better for the feud to have Ziggler and Roode eliminate them, as Tucker did get a high spot of his own with an unexpected Senton off a pod.
All this talk so far and the champions haven’t been mentioned yet. That isn’t a coincidence, as the match did deflate a bit after Heavy Machinery and Ziggler & Roode were eliminated. The Usos, New Day, and Miz & Morrison all looked fine– and it seems as though it’s setting up The Usos to be the #1 Contenders– and it makes sense not to take the belts off the cocky heel champions, but everyone’s hearts are still clearly invested in Otis and Ziggler.
Aleister Black vs. AJ Styles- No Disqualification match
This match accomplished everything that it set out to: the storytelling was good, it was stiff, The Undertaker appeared, and most importantly, still managed to come out looking strong. For a Philly crowd that’s used to hardcore matches, this didn’t quite get to the levels of a Sabu/Sandman match from ’97, but it still had some hard spots, with Styles getting coloured a bit from a splintered kendo stick that Black wailed on him with. They also teased the table spot really well, setting it up early in the match and around it until Black finally drove Styles through it with a Meteora.
But not enough can be said about how great Black looked coming out of this match. He fought from underneath for most of the match, and sold a left leg injury like a champ, and was fearless in willing to take on all three members of The OC when they surrounded him.
Obviously this was a placeholder for Styles as he moves on to face The Undertaker at WrestleMania 36, but this match established Black as a star, so hopefully the bookers use that and put a rocket on his back.
The Street Profits vs. Seth Rollins & Murphy
RAW Tag Team Championship
This match was flatter than it should’ve been, but being the one that followed a hardcore match the featured an Undertaker appearance and a hot babyface going over is hard. But the Philly crowd just never got into it– save for near the end when a “We Want the Smoke” chant coming up.
As was the theme for the night, it accomplished its purpose by taking Rollins out of the tag title scene as Owens once again made his presence known, setting up a match between “The Monday Night Messiah” and KO at WrestleMania 36 while the Street Profits can have a decent title run through Tampa Bay.
Braun Strowman vs. Shinsuke Nakamura, Cesaro, and Sami Zayn- 1-on-3 Handicap match
This match worked as close to a cooler as possible, despite the talent in the ring. Zayn was at his comedic best, player the scurrying, chickenshit heel. It was a bit of a shocking finish, but with Zayn winning the title it shows that there might be some renewed effort from the SmackDown bookers to push him win some more in-ring work. It is a little disappointing to see Strowman’s first run with a singles title end so soon, but this is a rivalry that’s likely running right though Sunday Night Heat on WrestleMania weekend.
Shayna Baszler vs. Asuka vs. Liv Morgan vs. Ruby Riott vs. Natalya vs. Sarah Logan- Elimination Chamber Match
RAW Women’s Championship #1 Contender’s match
In theory, this could’ve been a fine main event. The problem is that the finish had already been telegraphed. Which can actually be fine, but the in-ring action has to been good enough to make up for it; if you can add in a babyface with a couple hope spots that puts the idea of “swerve” in your head, then it’s even better.
But they wanted to make Baszler look strong, and as she tore through pretty much everyone else in this match, there was too much lull in a main event that should’ve had much more energy. There weren’t any high spots, and though in-ring psychology can exist in a gimmick match like the Elimination Chamber, it can’t rely on it. WWE pulls this match out once a year, so they should deliver on the promise that crazy shit will happen in it. All these wrestlers are fine workers, but they didn’t use what the structure offered nearly enough.
Asuka was great talking mad shit the entire time she was in her pod, but her hand injury might’ve played a role in her being booked to come in last and not engaging with Baszler for too long. But she was fantastic in being engaged and standing out even as she stood in a plastic box for nearly twenty minutes.
They definitely made Liv Morgan look strong, and they had the opportunity to give her the megaheat babyface run to make her look even better, but the hot Philly crowd was no doubt primed to get behind Morgan after she ate the vicious swing into a pod. but to have Baszler eliminate Riott and Logan before Morgan even entered the match made no sense; this is where the tag team match did a better job of intertwining the Otis/Ziggler storyline.
But ultimately, they wanted to book “The Shayna Baszler Show” from start to finish, and so they did just that.
Honestly, a match with promise that ultimately disappointed. Ah well, on to Baszler vs. Lynch.