|Image Source: Ringside News|
Written By: Mark Armstrong
Produced By: WWE
Date: May 31 2015
Location: American Bank Center, Corpus Christi, Texas, USA
A stunning upset, a controversial main event finish and two Elimination Chamber matches with a twist were the notable talking points of Elimination Chamber 2015, an event which was only announced three weeks beforehand and which, in North America, aired exclusively on the WWE Network. To avoid confusion, I still class this as a Pay-Per-View event as it was carried on PPV in some parts of the world, and everything besides its Network transmission in the US would suggest that it was a Pay-Per-View.
After a basic Kick-Off match between Stardust and Zack Ryder, which was won by Stardust, the main card opened with the first ever Tag Team Elimination Chamber match, with the WWE Tag Team Titles at stake. Entered into this contest were defending titleholders The New Day (with all three members being eligible to compete, as strange as it may sound), Tyson Kidd and Cesaro, The Lucha Dragons, The Ascension, The Prime Time Players and Los Matadores.
Although we have seen many Chamber matches over the years, this was the first to be contested between tag teams, and the first to have a mid-card feel, both of which altered expectations for this iteration of the stipulation which has been running since 2002. And I thought it was a rather good match; it wasn’t a great match, but there were plenty of notable spots, some of which were only possible due to the use of combos in this bout. That being said, the two stand-out moments were similar to those we have previously seen in “regular” Chamber matches but no less impressive: Kalisto channelled John Morrison by climbing to the ceiling of the Chamber and dropping down on his opponents, and even more amazingly, the pint-sized El Torito found his way into the structure and leapt off one of the pods in an insane stunt.
The Ascension were surprisingly dominant, given their slump in recent months, as their Fall Of Man dispatched of Los Matadores (not that surprising to be fair) and The Lucha Dragons (which did raise eyebrows). Darren Young’s Gut Check saw the elimination of the Road Warrior rip-offs (incidentally, if one member of a team was beaten, so was his partner), and fans were shocked when a basic roll-up led to the removal from play of Kidd and Cesaro, who stood out in this match through basic, high-quality wrestling (a highlight being when Kidd, Cesaro, Young and Titus O’Neil all teamed to suplex The New Day). Tyson’s fortunes got worse the following night when, in a dark match before Raw, Kidd lost to Samoa Joe after taking a Muscle Buster which ended up leaving Kidd with a serious neck injury.
So, the PTP and The New Day remained, and it seemed that the Players might have pulled it off, but in the end the 3-on-2 odds were too great to overcome, quite literally as Kofi Kingston, Big E and Xavier Woods all piled onto Titus O’Neil for the winning pinfall. Therefore, the defeated-on-paper Champs ended up triumphing, a result which had basically been telegraphed since Payback when the focus of this match was emphasising how likely it was that new tag champs would be crowned, which 99% of the time sees the story end with – yes! – a successful title defence. This is something that WWE should try to change in future to avoid predictability. Otherwise, though, a very good opener.
Match two was a three-way bout for the Divas Title between Nikki Bella, Paige and Naomi. To explain the background: Paige won a Battle Royal on the April 13 Raw in London to earn a Divas Title shot, only to be attacked and supposedly injured by the heel-turning Naomi afterwards. This somehow earned Naomi a Divas Title match at Extreme Rules and further interaction with The Bellas (alongside Tamina Snuka) in subsequent weeks, including at Payback. During the Naomi chase, The Bella Twins inexplicably turned back babyface without anything happening to signify such a personality adjustment. But on the May 18 Raw, Paige returned for vengeance, on both Naomi and in regards to the championship, and so we have this match.
As it turned out, the story didn’t really have any difference on the match, which by and large was your standard Divas Championship match. It wasn’t that bad, but there wasn’t anything memorable about it. And the same applied to the result, as Nikki hit Naomi with the Rack Attack for the win. At this point, Nikki has been Divas Champ for over six months, an unexpectedly lengthy reign given the quality of challengers (Paige, mostly) and the potential future opposition coming from NXT. One would assume that Paige will soon dethrone Nikki, but it’s hard to gauge the direction of WWE’s Divas division, especially since the night after EC 2015, Nikki pinned Paige in a Divas Title defence on Raw after The Bellas did their Twin Magic switch, which seemed to suggest another heel turn for the twins.
Next up, we had John Cena vs. Kevin Owens. Cena since becoming the United States Champion at WrestleMania 31 has been holding weekly challenges on Raw for the US Title, but the format changed on the May 18 Raw when NXT Champion Kevin Owens came out to answer the call, but instead of fighting, he insulted Cena and then left him laying with a Pop-Up Powerbomb. Owens revealed afterwards that he had a match scheduled with Cena at Elimination Chamber (a non-title one, strangely). Owens then had another big night at NXT Takeover: Unstoppable on May 20 when he destroyed the injured Sami Zayn and was then confronted by Samoa Joe (making his surprise WWE/NXT debut to a huge ovation). Owens was the man on everyone’s lips heading into this card, but the odds were that his momentum would be cut off by Cena here, or at least that Owens would get a fluke result given the non-title aspect.
What few had suggested beforehand was how good Cena-Owens could be. And fortunately, that meant that we got a far better match than anybody was expecting. The match of the night, this was also Cena’s best singles match this year, and one of the best WWE matches in general this year. There were a plethora of big moves and false finishes, all to a great crowd reaction from fans in Corpus Christi. Any fears that anybody had beforehand that Owens would be portrayed as not being in Cena’s league due to the presentation of the match were greatly squashed by how competitive the NXT Champion was against the man who has had 15 World Titles (some say 14 depending on your point of view on a mid-2011 WWE Title run).
But the most memorable part of the match, which is the reason why this bout won’t be forgotten in a hurry, was the finish: Owens cleanly pinned Cena with a Pop-Up Powerbomb. To put this into context: the face of WWE lost cleanly, on PPV, by pinfall, to a heel, who was making his main roster debut in WWE. That is a first-class way to enhance a newcomer, and given how infrequently Cena has lost cleanly since becoming a main eventer (defeats to The Rock at WrestleMania XXVIII and against Daniel Bryan and Brock Lesnar at SummerSlams 2013 and 2014 were the only clean losses I can think of in main-stage supercard clashes since Cena won his first WWE Championship back in 2005 at WrestleMania 21). The feeling was similar to that when Lesnar ended The Undertaker’s Streak at WrestleMania XXX, albeit on a less shocking scale, because the result (or the manner of it) was so unexpected. But unlike at WM XXX, where fans stood open-mouthed and in some cases with tears in their eyes, spectators at Elimination Chamber were ecstatic (besides the Cena fans, of course). To be fair, I would have not had Cena kick out of a previous Pop-Up Powerbomb to protect Owens’ finisher more, but nevertheless the result truly made Kevin Owens a star in one night, and his future in WWE seems very bright. Before this show ended, it was announced that Cena-Owens II will happen at Money In The Bank; it will be interesting to see how WWE handles this match to ensure that Owens retains his momentum. One massive win over Cena is a huge accomplishment, but could WWE really be daring enough to give him two?
What could follow that? WWE chose Neville vs. Bo Dallas, a decent match on paper, but not one which could possibly match Cena vs. Owens. But something had to come next, and to be fair this was a good choice: it was a nice little back-and-forth match with another sensible result, as Neville pinned Dallas with the Red Arrow. I wasn’t sure about the purpose of this feud, as they had already clashed on NXT, and Neville had been building his own momentum in a feud with King Barrett prior to Bo Dallas suddenly focusing on Neville again. Still, Neville triumphed, and has a chance to receive another boost by being entered into this year’s Money In The Bank Ladder Match. I still would have preferred seeing Neville in a Chamber match though.
Which brings us to the second Elimination Chamber match of the evening. This one was for the Intercontinental Title, vacated by the injured Daniel Bryan, who was on hand here to see the crowning of a new titleholder. The entrants here were Ryback, Sheamus, R-Truth, Dolph Ziggler and King Barrett. Rusev was meant to be the sixth entrant, to progress a feud with Ziggler that began on the May 18 Raw, but a foot injury suffered on the previous episode of SmackDown meant that the Bulgarian Brute was out of commission, thus rounding up a truly dreadful couple of weeks for the once-dominant Rusev. In the meantime, there was a void to be filled. WWE had already decided that it wouldn’t be Neville. Big Show, Randy Orton, Bray Wyatt and Roman Reigns were all unassigned to matches on this card, so it could have been any of them, or even an NXT star. Instead, WWE picked … Mark Henry?
The reveal wasn’t exactly a highlight of the show, and Henry’s reaction was probably only positive because this show was happening in the state of Texas, where the World’s Strongest Man hails from. Besides, wasn’t Henry a heel when he attacked Roman Reigns after their Raw match a few weeks ago? The mind boggles. But, whilst the announcement of the stale Henry’s inclusion was a let-down on the night, it may have been the right decision because, in a Chamber match for a vacant title, whoever replaced Rusev wasn’t likely to win (especially since, as noted earlier, Rusev and Ziggler are preparing a feud, meaning that neither was a favourite to triumph here). Therefore, it probably made sense to throw in an expendable wrestler with decent name value since it wouldn’t have had an effect on the outcome.
Unfortunately, Henry’s reveal wasn’t the only disappointment concerning this match; the quality was a bit sub-par as well. There wasn’t a shortage of effort, and there were a few cool spots. The main problem, I felt, was that the match had a seen-it-all-before feel. Truth is as stale as Henry, and although I like the remaining entrants, Ziggler is the only one who will potentially deliver moves which you haven’t seen them deliver many times before. Ryback, Sheamus and Barrett can deliver a good match, but none of the three are doing anything different in terms of their repertoire that they weren’t doing a year, two years or in some cases even three years ago. Add to that a slightly quiet audience, and you have a match which is well-executed but not particularly exciting. It did have one funny spot where it seemed that Sheamus’ pod wouldn’t open, only to learn that he had done so deliberately to gain a sudden advantage later in the bout. Henry’s pod also broke in a different way before he was supposed to enter, which didn’t help matters.
Truth inexplicably pinned Barrett before being put out himself by Ryback. Sheamus beat Henry and Ziggler (presumably drawing a line under the Sheamus-Dolph feud in the latter case), meaning that it was between Ryback and Sheamus to decide the IC Title. In the end, it was Ryback who won, pinning Sheamus with Shell Shocked, to become the new Intercontinental Champion. It was a sensible result, and one which fans were happy with, especially when Bryan himself endorsed the new titleholder afterwards. Despite the less-than-stellar match experience, at least the outcome was the right one.
And so we come to the main event, pitting Seth Rollins against Dean Ambrose for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship. This was a match that made sense to headline a show put together the way that EC had been; it’s best to give an upper mid-carder a chance to headline here than waste a blockbuster match on a hastily-arranged card. And Ambrose was a natural choice, given his previous feud with Rollins in 2014 that didn’t really have a conclusion, since Bray Wyatt cost Dean his Hell In A Cell match which led Ambrose into a conflict with Wyatt. That Triple H informed Ambrose and Reigns beforehand that Roman couldn’t accompany the challenger to ringside stacked the odds against Ambrose in a match where, truthfully, I didn’t think that Ambrose realistically had a chance; with probable title defences coming up against Reigns himself and Brock Lesnar down the road for Seth, now was not the time to dethrone “The Future”.
But it looked like that was going to be the outcome when, after around 20 minutes of pretty good in-ring action, the referee was dragged by Rollins to avoid an Ambrose top rope attack, which was followed by Ambrose pinning Rollins with Dirty Deeds, and a second referee coming in to make the three count. The previously-lacklustre crowd exploded when it seemed like Dean Ambrose had actually become WWE World Champ! And Dean’s celebration went on for so long that it seemed like Rollins really had lost the title. But then you saw the two referees communicating, and you just knew that something was about to go down which would alter the result.
Sure enough, it was ruled that Rollins had been disqualified for using the referee in the physical manner that he did, which meant that Ambrose had won the match but not the WWE Title; that would remain with Seth Rollins. Fans booed loudly as Rollins treated viewers to the most over-the-top facial expressions of his career when he realised that the championship still belonged to him. I must point out that for a Network-exclusive show (in North America) that had only recently been announced, ending your main event with a DQ probably wasn’t a sensible idea if the purpose is to boost subscriber numbers and viewing figures for future events of this kind.
However, the main event hi-jinks weren’t over yet. Rollins, Kane and J&J Security began pounding Ambrose, with Roman Reigns coming out (to a massive cheer, by the way) to save his Shield “brother” and, after Ambrose hit Rollins with Dirty Deeds, Dean escaped through the crowd with the WWE Title, claiming that in his mind he had won it, so he was going to take it. It was reminiscent of when CM Punk left Money In The Bank 2011 with the WWE Title that he had just won prior to his WWE contract expiring, and to be fair this was too similar to the storyline prior to WM 31 when several wrestlers seemed to be stealing the Intercontinental Title, a plot which began at Fast Lane when Ambrose stole the IC Title from then-titleholder Bad News Barrett after another DQ ending. Still, despite the frustration over the nature of this outcome, fans were largely happy when the show ended, and no doubt we will get a Rollins-Ambrose rematch of some kind at Money In The Bank on June 14.
As for Elimination Chamber as a whole? It was a real mixture on the rating scale, as we had a great match between Cena and Owens with a stunning result, a good match with a questionable ending in the main event, and two Chamber matches of varying quality, with one being very good but with a slightly flat conclusion, and the other being underwhelming but with a crowd-pleasing result. Add to that two filler matches which served their purpose, and overall I edge this just towards being a good show, mainly due to Owens pinning Cena. The event didn’t deliver enough to warrant a higher rating than that, but Cena-Owens was undoubtedly an excellent bout with a brilliant result, and is the reason why, despite the two stipulation matches bearing the event’s name not being classic entries, fans will at least remember Elimination Chamber 2015 for the moment when a star was truly born.
Overall Rating: 7.5/10 – Good