Posted on Saturday, February 16, 2013
by Paul in Wrestling
The WWE’s February show is always an awkward one. The Royal Rumble in January determines the challenger for (one of) the world title(s) at Wrestlemania; that show doesn’t come until early April. Meanwhile, there’s a show to fill. In recent years, that slot has been taken with Elimination Chamber, based on a six-man cage match. The idea is that two men start, another four enter at five minute intervals, elimination occurs by pinfall or submission, and the last person left is the winner.
Previously, the company has taken the extraordinarily ill-advised approach of putting both the Raw and Smackdown titles in the line in separate Elimination Chamber matches – thus rather undermining the significance of the Royal Rumble, by giving another ten challengers a shot the next month. This time round, sense has finally prevailed – they’ve dropped that idea, and finally gone for what they should have done all along: since Rumble winner John Cena has elected to go for Raw’s title at Wrestlemania, the Chamber will decide who challenges for Smackdown’s.
Of course, that also means that the rest of the card is free to feature more or less normal matches.
1. WWE Title: The Rock v CM Punk. Rock is going to be around until Wrestlemania, and as widely expected, he won the title at the Rumble in his big comeback, ending CM Punk’s year-plus title reign. This all makes perfect sense, since if you’re going to shell out for Rock to be on the show at Wrestlemania, you probably want him to be in the main event.
This is CM Punk’s automatic rematch, but for fairly obvious reasons, the prospects of him regaining the title are virtually nil. Cena is already lined up to challenge the winner at Wrestlemania, and we all know which is the bigger match. Punk is basically here to give us the obligatory rematch before he moves on to something else for Wrestlemania.
Well, that’s the conventional wisdom, at any rate. There’s one slight wrinkle to this, which is the question of what Punk will be doing at Wrestlemania. The plan, supposedly, is for him to be this year’s opponent for the now-virtually-retired Undertaker. But Undertaker has been recovering from surgery and it’s conceivable he might skip this year. In that case it’s not beyond the bounds of possibility that Punk might get added to the WWE Title match to make it a three-way, in which case some sort of weird result would have to happen here. I don’t think it’s likely, but it’s not impossible.
For some strange reason, this match also has a stipulation that the title can change hands on a count out or a disqualification. (Normally it can’t.) That obviously works to Punk’s advantage, and it was added at the request of his manager Paul Heyman – quite why that request was accepted is decidedly unclear, but the commentators have at least made a point of wondering about it, which at least indicates that it’s a deliberate mystery. Nonetheless I’d be astonished if this was the ending – I assume it’s going to be a false finish. The obvious route would be for one of Punk’s usual associates to attack him, and then have Punk call for a win by DQ.
The match last month was pretty good, and Rock always gets a great reaction, so I’m expecting this to be strong.
One further point worth mentioning about Rock’s title reign: although he’s appearing most weeks on Raw to talk, he’s not wrestling on television, and needless to say, he’s not working on the untelevised house shows. That’s interesting because the WWE has until recently insisted on every show being headlined by a world title match (one that is never acknowledged on television, of course). Reportedly, this is one of the main reasons why they bother to keep separate titles for Raw and Smackdown. Without Rock around, they’ve been headlining the house shows with tag matches between other main eventers, and surprise surprise, the sky has not fallen. Which has to invite the question: so why are they keeping around the Smackdown title, and could the prospect of a unification match to create a single, stronger world title be starting to loom on the horizon?
2. World Heavyweight Title: Alberto Del Rio v The Big Show. The aforementioned Smackdown title is treading water. We’ve done this match twice (with a “Last Man Standing” stipulation) and now we’re doing it again but as a regular match. Why? To kill time, really.
Alberto Del Rio isn’t really taking flight as a babyface champion, largely because the company made such an ungodly mess of his turn, which was hopelessly undermotivated, entirely out of the blue, buried on the undercard of a PPV, and promptly contradicted by vacillating on TV for a couple of weeks about whether he might be a heel after all. Oh, and in his previous match with Show, he only won with the help of his sidekick Ricardo Rodriguez, which is hardly the behaviour of a plucky hero. He’s now in the awkward position that fans cheer him, kind of, because they know that they’re meant to, but he’s not getting the proper response a babyface champion ought to.
Even so, it’s highly unlikely that he’s going to just lose the title back to Big Show at this stage, particularly since the most likely challengers to emerge from the Elimination Chamber match are heels. Del Rio wins, match is probably a bit average.
An outside possibility, though, is to bear in mind the possibility of an appearance by Dolph Ziggler. Ziggler still has his Money in the Bank title shot that entitles him to challenge for the Smackdown title at any time, and since he’s not otherwise booked, it’s always possible that he shows up in the aftermath of this match to snatch the title. But he’s passed up plenty of opportunities before. A more likely scenario at this stage, I suspect, is that Ziggler simply announces that he’ll take his title shot at Wrestlemania itself – immediately after the “main” title defence.
3. Elimination Chamber Match – No 1 Contender to World Heavyweight Title: Randy Orton v Jack Swagger v Chris Jericho v Mark Henry v Kane v Daniel Bryan. The line-up for this match has been messed around with quite a bit since it was first announced, and it’s probably fair to say that several of these guys are place-fillers. Quality place-fillers, mind you, and place-fillers who’ll make it a better match. But not guys who are really likely to go on and win.
Kane and Daniel Bryan are the tag team champions and have an ongoing storyline of their own, about their “odd couple” tag team. It’s almost inconceivable that this would be shoved aside to give one of them a solo title match at Wrestlemania. But Bryan’s a great wrestler who will help the match, Kane’s an established star and credible extra challenger, and I suspect they’ll get some spot where they get each other eliminated in order to develop their own storyline.
Chris Jericho is on another of his periodic comeback tours – at the moment he seems to like showing up for a few months each year. He wasn’t very well used last time (after the initial Kaufmanesque schtick of refusing to talk and behaving like a ridiculously over the top smiling babyface was over); it’s pretty clear that his role at this stage is to help full-time wrestlers become more established. And that’s a fine role for him, but it’s not one that involves winning here and challenging for the World Title.
Randy Orton could win. He’s a major star with nothing else much going on right now. He’s also been losing a lot lately, which is usually a big red flashing light saying that he’s about to turn heel. (The theory is that you can afford to have a character lose a lot if they’re about to be reinvigorated and paired up with a fresh set of opponents. I’m not convinced it works, but that’s the theory.) That would also make him a viable opponent for Del Rio. Except that it would be odd for him to lose his first major match as a heel, and for that reason, I expect this is going to be another loss for him, building to the heel turn a little further down the line.
Mark Henry has recently returned from injury and is back on his “destructive strongman heel” persona. You could pair Del Rio with him, but he’s just done two matches with Big Show, and facing another giant seems awfully repetitive. Henry is fine in this role, but the time doesn’t feel right.
And that leaves Jack Swagger, a former World Champion, but one who was long since relegated back to the midcard. Swagger was taken off TV for a while with the idea of repackaging him. What actually happened was that he was brought back as an American patriot so obnoxiously over the top that he qualifies as a heel even by WWE standards, accompanied by new manager Zeb Colter, whose gimmick would appear to be that he’s a racist. In theory, of course, this makes him an ideal foil for Del Rio, the newly-turned Mexican hero.
Contrary to popular belief, this sort of thing tends not to work with wrestling audiences, for the simple reason that they, like everyone else, generally just find it mildly embarrassing. You need to play it very carefully in order to get away with it, and the WWE isn’t really good at walking that kind of line. Basically, it has to come across as an exaggerated version of some real-world attitude that the company is joining you in mocking, rather than just a cheap attempt at pushing buttons. I’m not holding my breath for them to get it right.
Still, given that it’s way too early for Del Rio to lose the title (unless they panic and decide to change direction), you’re looking for a heel who can challenge him at Wrestlemania in a midcard match, and who can lose. And that’s Swagger, who’s been floundering for so long that he’d actually gain from doing so. Henry wouldn’t shock me, but Swagger seems to make the most sense.
4. John Cena, Ryback & Sheamus v The Shield (Dean Ambrose, Roman Reigns & Seth Rollins). Still only the Shield’s second televised match; they’ve wisely been kept in the role of anarchist attackers. They do wrestle a lot on the untelevised shows, and by all accounts the matches are good – but the characters shouldn’t be seen as ordinary wrestlers at this stage.
At one point this was reportedly going to be a second Elimination Chamber match, but now it’s just going to be a six-man tag. It’s going to be interesting to see how this one works; they’re being matched against three main eventers, and while it seems far too early for the Shield to lose, it’s also very hard to imagine the WWE having them pin any of the babyfaces. My guess would be some sort of screwjob finish allowing the Shield to win, after the babyfaces have the upper hand – though hopefully not dominating too much, because I’d have thought the Shield need to be kept strong at least through to Wrestlemania.
5. WWE United States Title: Antonio Cesaro v The Miz. This feud has been going on for a while now, and since they’re trying to establish Miz as a babyface, I have a sinking feeling that at some point he’s really got to win. Like Del Rio, Miz’s act doesn’t really lend itself to working as a babyface – he comes across as awfully pandering – but he’s been cast in that role, and dammit, they’re going to keep trying with it. To be honest, Miz probably does need the title more than Cesaro at this point, who’s had a long enough run with the title to give him some credibility with the fans. The match should be fine, and I’m going to guess that Miz wins.
6. WWE Divas Title: Kaitlyn v Tamina Snuka. Kaitlyn won the title in January and has done pretty much nothing since. I’d assume this is just a case of throwing her a straightforward challenger to get her established. The match will be short and probably used as a stopgap for pacing more than anything else.
7. Brodus Clay & Tensai v The Rhodes Scholars (Cody Rhodes & Damien Sandow). This is the pre-show match airing on YouTube. The Rhodes Scholars were supposed to have split up a couple of weeks back, but it seems everyone’s now realised that the writers had no plans for them as singles wrestlers, so we’re already getting a “one night only” reunion. (They’ve been working as a team on house shows as well.)
It’s pretty obvious that they’re losing, since this is an outing for the newly formed tag team of Brodus Clay and Tensai. Clay is a loveable dancing fat man. Tensai was originally meant to be a dominant heel, but that didn’t work at all, and after some faintly excruciating matches died a painful and lingering death before the crowd, we’re now getting a last-ditch attempt to repackage him as another loveable dancing fat man. Normally this would be a ridiculous step down, but he was failing so badly in the previous role that it becomes a reasonable salvage move. And by all accounts, it has been working at the house shows; for whatever reason, he’s winning over audiences much more easily in this role. Since they now have to re-establish him, I would take it as read that he wins here.
Worth getting? There’s some unspectacular stuff on the undercard, but the Rock’s wrestling and the Elimination Chamber match ought to be good, and the Shield match again has some interest.