Matthew Roberts takes a look at the latest (and last, with the dual brand PPV era back in full effect) Double Feature from WWE Home Video.
One downside of the annual “Road to WrestleMania” is the need to fill one (or in this case, two) PPV’s between the Royal Rumble and Mania itself with enough juicy stuff to keep people interested and on-going issues bubbling without giving too much away ahead of the biggest show of the year.
Elimination Chamber decides to solve that by, well, the Elimination Chamber. This year’s show featured two; a mens and women’s match. The former to decide the number one contender to Brock Lesnar’s Universal Title, the latter to see which woman would walk into Mania as the Raw Women’s Champion. Whilst the winners may not have surprised too many, it may have been a surprise to most that it was the women’s match that took the honours for match of the night.
The match had a good mix of new, veteran and “superstar” talent and far from being a watered down version of the gimmick this had a perfect mix of action, storylines and the trademark big bumps. It also had a performance from Bliss that was arguably her best to date. Heeling it up perfectly, she took the win eliminating Bayley and then Sasha Banks. Her post match babyface promo, that quickly returned to her usual heel mode, was a work of brilliance too. There are “better” workers in the Women’s Division, but there’s no better character. And there’s no-one who bests her in WWE style psychology either.
The men’s match couldn’t match that, even with seven superstars in there. (Three started off). Some will point the finger at the “obvious” winner in the form of Roman Reigns meaning a lack of tension but that doesn’t really nail it for my money. Wrestling can be predictable and great; this was merely good and was missing something. It was fun to see Strowman go on a rampage and you can’t deny the effort but in the end it was missing that unquantifiable X factor that would have elevated it as a whole.
The undercard offered a mixed bag. The Tag Team Championship match suffered because Titus O’Neil and Apollo Crews, despite the bookers “efforts” in the build up, are no-one’s idea of top contenders to a title. But for what it was, all concerned did their best. Tension was attempted to be ramped up in the Asuka / Nia Jax match by the stipulation that Nia would be added to Asuka’s Women’s Title match at WrestleMania if she won; of course the problem is that that kind of devalued the historic Women’s Rumble if it happened and that, not for the first time tonight, no-one really believed that it would happen (even if in kayfabe terms Asuka against Alexa Bliss AND Nia Jax would have been interesting). They played to their strengths and had a decent match which was rendered pointless anyway when Asuka picked Charlotte and Jax, despite losing here, got a shot at Bliss at Mania anyway.
Still that was a lot better than the mess that was Matt Hardy against Bray Wyatt. I’m not one who enjoys “fans” in the crowd for chanting things not related to a match but in this one case I couldn’t really blame them. It was awful and as bad as it was to watch first time around it was even worse again watching it for this review.
Rounding off the undercard was the Ronda Rousey Raw Contract signing. On one level is was pretty average; in a classic WWE move instead of letting Rousey be herself they seem duty bound to script her to the nth degree. I also have a pathological disinterest in seeing Stephanie McMahon talk on WWE TV. That said, the big moments were well done (and played extremely well on the international news shows the morning after) and at least it had a point; to set up the WrestleMania tag team match.
Smackdown’s last PPV stop on the Road to WrestleMania was Fastlane. Like it’s Raw counterpart there wasn’t much tension in terms of potential match results but it did offer up a more rounded card of action.
In a weird way you could almost believe AJ Styles wasn’t going to leave the WWE Championship Six-Pack Challenge main event with the title because why would Vinnie have an AJ-Shinsuke match on the biggest show of the year when neither man nor the feud was his creation? Of course in the end he did just that, and with all six men involved putting in a stint the action was hot and fast paced and delivered the result most wanted. I could have done without Shane McMahon’s input, but that’s a given with me!
The undercard had nothing that could match the main event, but neither did anything sink to the depths of Wyatt and Hardy at Elimination Chamber.
Shinsuke Nakamura and Rusev had an entertaining opener that played in front of a hot crowd and even on occasion had you thinking Rusev could actually pull off a shock win. There was less drama in Charlotte’s Women’s Title defence against Ruby Riot which hurt what was otherwise a solid encounter that could possibly have been even better if the shenanigans towards the end with The Riott Squad and Becky Lynch & Naomi had been kept well away from it. Asuka showing up post-match to challenge Charlotte at Mania was well-received though.
Becky & Naomi’s losing effort to Carmella & Natalya started off very well and slowly lost most of it’s heat and excitement. Of course Carmella pinning Lynch was one of those things you just have to expect in the WWE when a Money In The Bank holder hasn’t done much and time is coming close to when she will cash in. Why Natalya was protected is beyond me, mind, but that’s another rant for another time.
The Tag Team Championship match between the Uso’s and The New Day was a bust when the Bludgeon Brothers ran in for the no contest. If a three way for Mania really had to be set up in this fashion it could quite easily have been done on a Tuesday night rather than on PPV. Still I much preferred that to the United States Championship match between Randy Orton and champion Robert Roode. A near twenty minute match that went on at least ten minutes too long for the “action” that was “packed” into it, it was by no means awful but it felt like you were permanently waiting for it to kick up a couple of notches for a hot finish that never actually came.
Elimination Chamber had the best match of the two shows with the Women’s Chamber effort, whereas Fastlane arguably offered the more rounded overall experience. Neither card is unmissable but both have their moments and both went someway to finalising the Mania card. As a double feature, it offers some good entertainment at a value price.
The only extras are the two kickoff matches that preceded the shows. The Good Brothers against Curtis Axel and Bo Dallas is nothing you wouldn’t expect from a random Monday night card filler, whilst a six man pitting Tye Dilliner, Tyler Breeze and Fandango against Chad Gable, Shelton Benjamin & Mojo Rawley can be filed under “fun, but completely inconsequential”.
Format reviewed: DVD
Pictures courtesy of WWE and Fetch.
Thank you to our partners, WWEDVD.co.uk and Fetch for providing our review copy of Elimination Chamber and Fastlane Double Feature, which is out NOW. You can buy your copy from WWEDVD.co.uk now by clicking here