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Cagey veterans: Triple H, Edge capture WWE’s major titles in Elimination Chamber double-header at NO WAY OUT

February 17th, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments
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World Wrestling Entertainment continued its string of excellent Elimination Chamber matches on pay per view, with a strong double-header inside the steel at Sunday’s NO WAY OUT. When WWE debuted the Elimination Chamber less than seven years ago, I thought it was one of the most innovative, brutal matches the company had devised in years. The inaugural Chamber bout, held at the 2002 SURVIVOR SERIES was a classic, with a bloody, exhausted Shawn Michaels capping off his return to action with a show-stopping, dramatic win of the World title, pinning Triple H to take the Big Gold. And I still recall that spot when Rob Van Dam appeared to nearly crush the larynx of the Game with a dangerous five-star splash from atop of one of the Chamber pods in the early going.

Sweet Chamber Music: After delivering his finisher, HBK pins Triple H to win the World title in the first-ever Chamber bout.

Sweet Chamber Music: After delivering his finisher, HBK pins Triple H to win the World title in the first-ever Chamber bout.

Since that time, though, the Chamber has become an annual event as part of the regular PPV rotation. The match concept is no longer special, relegated to a marketing gimmick. In my opinion, the Chamber should be considered the mother of all gimmick matches, reserved for settling the harshest of controversies. While they may be overexposing the concept, especially with two such bouts on the same show, the Chamber will remain a WWE fixture as long as it remains a surefire PPV draw. I’ll be interested to see if the buy rate is consistent this year, since most of the buildup on RAW in the weeks leading up to NO WAY OUT centered on Shane McMahon vs. Randy Orton, while the Chamber title bouts were considered an afterthought.

Chamber of Commerce: Bulletproof glass sold separately.

Chamber of Commerce: Bulletproof glass sold separately.

On Sunday, Triple H won the WWE heavyweight championship over the Undertaker in a memorable showdown between the final two contestants in the SMACKDOWN! Chamber bout. The exchange of near falls, including a wonderfully timed false finish that saw Trips get his black boot on the ropes as a last-gasp save following a Tombstone piledriver, and later, an Undertaker kick-out after a pedigree, played the audience like a piano. The crowd’s loud, dueling chants of “Triple H” and “Undertaker” gave the encounter a special feeling, which you would expect with it coming down to the two most dominant performers in the company in the last decade.

Around this time last year, in the months leading into WRESTLEMANIA 24, I wrote that a main event of HHH defending the belt vs. the streak of the Undertaker would do big business, as unlike most big matches nowadays, the finish would be difficult for fans to guess. (In fact, things were so predictable in 2008, the WWE title match finish in the Triple Threat was changed to Orton successfully defending the title over John Cena and HHH just to swerve the marks.) At this point, fans don’t believe ‘Taker’s WRESTLEMANIA streak is in jeopardy, no matter the opponent…with the possible exception of Triple H. Pulling the trigger on the match now would make sense, while ‘Taker is still viewed as a force and Triple H is still on top of his game. It would likely be a great match as well, as long as ‘Taker is healthy.
Gamemanship: Triple H outdueled the Dead Man to win the WWE championship.

Gamemanship: Triple H outdueled the Dead Man to win the WWE championship.

But it ain’t happening this year.

On the Feb. 16 RAW, JBL came to the ring claiming he was going to end the Undertaker’s streak at WRESTLEMANIA. (Who does JBL think he is, anyway…Shane McMahon?) It’s getting to be funny how WWE has JBL deliver these promos with conviction about regaining the WWE title or winning the World title or ending the ‘Taker’s streak, when even the densest marks realize he’s through as a major player. Yeah, yeah, that’s heat, baby.) This, of course, brought out Shawn Michaels, who challenged JBL to a match with the winner challenging the Undertaker’s streak. (Gee…wonder how the ‘Taker feels about all this? It’s his streak, after all. Seems like he’d be in line for a shot at Trips’ belt after Sunday. But there I go talking logic again.) Anyway, so the WRESTLEMANIA main event looks to be HHH vs. Randy Orton for the WWE title (following the Legend Killer’s attack on Shane and Steph on Monday’s RAW), with ‘Taker vs.HBK on the undercard. Even though Trips vs. Orton has been done to death, the new family issue involving the McMahons (more on that later this week) gives their bout a spark, and at least, a fresh concept. And HBK vs. ‘Taker has the potential to steal the whole dang show.

I thought ‘Taker looked great physically Sunday. The Phenom worked as hard as I’ve ever seen him, perhaps in part because the early sequence between Big Show and Kozlov bombed big time and fans were beginning to turn on the bout despite the hot opening sequence between Jeff Hardy and defending champion Edge.

The champ exited early, with Hardy small packaging Edge during a spear attempt, a surprising move that popped the live crowd. It was an interesting booking approach, guaranteeing a title switch and generating a buzz amongst the live crowd—which was promptly cooled the moment Kozlov entered the ring. (Even worse, he was wearing what appeared to be tighty-whities).

Despite coming out on the losing end in a few high-profile bouts, WWE still insists on billing Kozlov as “undefeated in one-one-competition”—which they undoubtedly will continue to do despite the big lug being pinned Sunday in the Chamber. (It wasn’t “one-on-one,” you see. I understand that Vince shouts this kind of stuff into the announcers’ headsets, but it kills their credibility making such claims.) Anyway, Hardy sold Kozlov’s offense like crazy, and believe me, I felt his pain. Usually, WWE painstakingly books gimmick matches like this (and the Royal Rumble) to ensure the bouts flow well and that there’s always a nice mix of guys who can work and/or personalities who are over…hiding the shortcomings of the dead weight. Not the case here, as Big Show was the next man in, leaving Hardy between the two big brutes. Now, I like the Paul Wight, despite his limitations in the ring, but the whole “rivalry” spot between Kozlov and the Show, with each man performing devastating moves on Hardy without making a pin attempt, made both appear like dopes. Why not just finish off Hardy? (The Show, in particular, looked foolish, as he was later booked to interrupt several spots that would have surely eliminated one of the opponents. ) The crowd died during this five-minute stretch, which seemed a hell of a lot longer. (Although I did laugh when Ross made the comment about Show “unwilling to leave his feet.”) The camera caught ‘Taker appearing a little disgusted looking on, and he took to pounding the glass surrounding his pod, perhaps to wake up the crowd, which began a “Undertaker” chant as if on command.

Koz and defect: Behold the undefeated loser.

Koz and defect: Behold the undefeated loser.

Trips was in next, and boy, I was never so happy to see him—and likely never will again. (Did Ross really call HHH “Neanderthal-like” during his introduction? Had to laugh at that one, along with Ross’ comments professing twisted admiration for the Chamber itself, marveling over the “10-Ton, Big Bully of Steel” and “The Devil’s Vacation Home in Hell” throughout the match.) Kozlov was pretty tired at this point and managed to screw up the Game’s “Harley Race” high-knee spot, bumping too soon. The crowd was so disinterested in Kozlov at this point, that they didn’t even pop when ‘Taker finally came in and eliminated him after a Last Ride. (Kozlov appeared to block ‘Taker from extending him farther up to complete the move, but it still looked OK.) ‘Taker also appeared to work pretty stiff with Kozlov before taking him out. But again, it wasn’t all bad news for Kozlov—after all, he’s STILL undefeated in singles competition.

Y’know, Kozlov has some of the most amazing facial expressions I’ve ever seen on a monster heel, but he’s simply not a polished big man on the level of say, Batista, who at the very least works hard. Kozlov would have been a brilliant monster for Jerry Lawler to feud with in Memphis in the early ’80s, as the King would have used his master psychology to get him over as a force. (Not surprising that it was former Memphis promoter Jerry Jarrett who was instrumental in Kozlov getting his big break. ) No matter how much Ross claims Kozlov is “a master of several forms of combat,” I just ain’t buying it.

The crowd woke up when it was down to the final four, though I felt it was pretty clear it was coming down to Trips and ‘Taker at this point. Hardy, Trips and ‘Taker all three had their working shoes on, bumping all over the place for each other. Hardy connected beautifully with a Whisper in the Wind on HHH, who sold it like a million dollars. (Quite frankly, it’s one of the few times that the Whisper, while always visually impressive, truly looked like a devastating maneuver.) They did a nice job of emphasizing that it took three men to eliminate the Show, with each of the remaining three competitors hitting him with a signature move. (If only Show had been protected this well in losses early in his WWF career.)

Hardy’s elimination was a given, since he’s headed to ‘MANIA to face his brother, Matt, in a grudge match. While I don’t share the negative feelings that some have with a Hardy vs. Hardy program, I do wish they’d have built the feud up slowly, gradually escalating the violence between the two. The whole thing is rushed—but that’s what happens when for attempting swerve Internet marks who knew about Christian returning to WWE storylines as the man who ran Jeff off the road, which was reportedly the original plan. The only one who should be complaining now is Christian, who has been relegated to a feud with ECW champ Jack Swagger, who isn’t over as a personality at all.

Given the star power involved in the SMACKDOWN! Chamber, I was curious as to why this match didn’t close the show…but I’d have my answer eventually in the form of a last-minute substitution in the RAW Chamber.

Finish saw Trips escape the Last Ride and hit ‘Taker with a second pedigree to get the win. The crowd was so into the bout at this point that no one booed the finish, unlike the first pin attempt following the pedigree, which did illicit rather loud boos from the Seattle crowd who thought ‘Taker was done at that point.

The ‘Taker’s emotional, heartbroken gaze directed at the new champion in the aftermath will be wasted, as the company is heading in a different direction for WRESTLEMANIA.

Can’t believe they followed this hot opener with the no-holds-barred match between Shane McMahon and Randy Orton. With Shane’s Superman push being choke-slammed down our throats, I figured this match would need brilliant booking and the perfect placement on the card to succeed. In hindsight, WWE probably wishes they’d gone with Swagger vs. Finlay after the Chamber (which put the crowd to sleep faster than Verne Gagne would have ever dreamt possible)…the crowd would have popped for anything after that.

Believe it or not, the bout actually opened with Shane boxing Orton’s ears. The former WWE and World champion was on the ropes early, with Orton bumping outside the ring selling the avenging son’s onslaught as the maniacal Stephanie McMahon watched on a backstage monitor. With Orton on his knees, Shane took his sweet little time setting up gimmicks that would come into play latter, a trashcan and a chair. So much time passed that even Lawler had to question Shane’s strategy, commenting O’Mac had better pick up the pace and stay on top on his foe. The Seattle crowd, who was hot as can be for the opener, was dead most of the way for this. Orton regained the upper hand in the ring, before Shane whacked him with a kendo stick out of nowhere. They spilled back onto the floor, where Shane clocked Orton with a ringside monitor—a stiff shot that resulted in the Legend Killer bleeding the hard way. (If it had occurred with a different opponent, Orton could have benefited from future video replays of his bloody wound a la Steve Austin at WRESTLEMANIA 13. After HHH vs. Orton has run its course, everyone will be better off if WWE refrains from showing footage of the owner’s son whipping the top star’s ass.)

Shane placed a prone, bloody Orton on the announcers’ table, but Legacy members Ted DiBiase and Cody Rhodes made the save. Of course, Shane kicked their butts, too, with McMahon this time catching Rhodes with the VanTerminator, mere days after making DiBiase eat it. Once again, Shane barely connected, though the execution didn’t look nearly as devastating as one from the master, Rob Van Dam:

As I stated last week in my Feb. 13 column over at comics101.com, I believe the fans are over the novelty of seeing Shane’s daredevil antics. A few “Holy Shit” chants resulted from the move, but not like what you’d expect, and nowhere near the reaction Shane got when he did the same move to his father at WRESTLEMANIA years back.

Shane then missed the Randy Savage elbow from the top turnbuckle, crushing the table instead of Orton. (Dig it!) Wicked, wicked bump. Orton then checked on his fallen comrades. In an embarrassing display of emotion, the leader of Legacy ordered the Million-Dollar Son to remove Rhodes from the proverbial battlefield…y’know, in case Shane got back up and whipped ‘em all. Shameful, really.

Orton poured it on, hitting but Shane kept kicking out, when lesser men (y’know, those not named McMahon) would have been pinned. Funniest moment of the night: A perplexed Michael Cole, when struggling to explain how the owner’s son could survive such an attack by the promotion’s top heel, questioned, “How’s he doing it?” Lawler, apparently with a straight face, blurted out “That McMahon heart!” Ha, ha, ha! That’s the best one-liner Lawler’s had in years.

Really, if the bout was going to continue at this point, then Orton should have been lifting up Shane’s shoulders at the count of two to inflict more punishment. With his nasty cut, Orton looked the worse for wear, which I don’t think was the story should have told. In my opinion, Shane should have been allowed some offense before Orton took over, toying with him like a snake does his prey. They came close to delivering just that in the end but fell short. Orton hit the RKO when Shane went a punt and got the pin. Instead of a beat-down after, Lawler claimed Orton was too injured to follow up on a post-match attack? What tha…? This really made no sense later, when Lawler announced to the PPV-viewing audience that Shane had been taken to a local medical facility, with his adoring sister by his side, after falling in and out of consciousness. Again, though, that’s not the story they told in the ring.

All that said, Shane’s timing is pretty good for a guy who doesn’t work on a regular basis, and yes, his bumps are often amazing. But the crowd is wise to his routine, and it just doesn’t look right for your top heel star to be selling like mad for this guy. Further, Shane has no business using finishers of the top guys (e.g., Edge’s spear).

Blocked Punt: This is what Shane gets for attempted gimmick infringement.

Blocked Punt: This is what Shane gets for attempted gimmick infringement.

The ECW title bout was a throwaway—Swagger (whose face looks like it was chiseled by legendary comic-book artist Jack Kirby) and Finlay missed a few spots and the young champion looked lost at times. They mistimed the finish with Hornswoggle taking a weak-looking bump off a Swagger rollup of Finlay, with the champ retaining. No Christian = no interest.

Initially, I wasn’t interested in the Shawn Michaels/JBL feud—seemed like a strained attempt by WWE Creative to be relevant and current with a storyline involving the global financial crisis. But as is usually the case, Michaels has been the difference-maker; slowly, his spot-on facial expressions and body language captured the emotion of a broken man ruled by his “maniacal boss.” (As Lawler described JBL. I wonder if, in an ironic twist, Vince fed that line to the King. Hmmm.) Some nice storytelling early, with the announcers playing up the fact that JBL was attempting to bait HBK into a disqualification. I have to admit—I bought into this swerve as I thought the presence of Rebecca (Mrs. HBK…a showstopper in her own right) would trigger Michaels’ temper, resulting in a DQ. I must say, that as good as HBK is with his pained expressions, Rebecca was equally as good here watching her husband in action. Lawler and Cole were great here, covering all the bases in the storyline, including the ramifications for HBK’s family should he lose as well as Michaels’ history of back problems. As JBL worked over the back of his foe, the King quietly uttered that Layfield was out to expose Michaels as “a broken…down…old man.” JBL taunted Rebecca, perhaps questioning how many hours a day she spends in a tanning bed. Michaels missed an elbow from the top and narrowly avoid being counted out on the floor. Again, it’s subtle, but the look of relief on Rebecca’s vibrant-orange face was perfect. Even better: Mrs. Michaels (Hickenbottom) actually shed tears or mascara-running joy when HBK came back and hit Sweet Chin Music for the win. (I think I shed a few tears of joy myself…now Michaels can move on to have a bout with someone—likely the Undertaker—who can keep up with him at WRESTLEMANIA.) Anyway, decent bout, given Layfield was involved. Cole had a nice line about HBK’s children at home jumping for joy, which didn’t come off as bad as it might read.

Before the last match started, Lawler plugged Saliva’s “Hunt You Down,” the official song of NO WAY OUT. The 59-year-old Lawler sounds always sounds a little silly plugging a band like this. Jericho was interviewed backstage before the Chamber. Nice, subtle swerve with Jericho saying after he won the title, he’d coax Flair out of retirement with the offer of a shot at a 17th World championship reign.Of course, he backtracked immediately and said he wouldn’t do that for “that charity-case Flair,” but it did get me thinking that perhaps they was the direction they were headed and Jericho might regain the belt. Of course, all bets were off the moment Edge attacked Kofi Kingston from behind, seizing his spot in the match. Yeah, I know they explained why an authority figure from RAW wasn’t on hand (Steph at the “nearby medical facility” with Shane), but she really needed to be there to “authorize” his entry, saying something like, “Careful what you wish for” and urging the other RAW guys to whip this SMACKDOWN! outsider’s ass for screwing up their brand’s match. (The next night on RAW, it was explained that Vickie Guerrero was the second in command with Steph gone, so she approved her Edge’s entry. That would have been far more effective had they explained that during the PPV broadcast, but perhaps there were time concerns.) Ah, well—like anyone gives a shit about logic nowadays. Edge slithering his way into championships has been done to death, but the brilliant execution of his latest ploy saved it. But I’m getting ahead of myself here.

Cena got a huge reaction coming out first. Oh, yeah, then Mike Knox came out. Knox is another guy who would have been a big star in a different era. He’s got a unique, intense look and air about him, but his ring attire is the absolute shits. Unlike Kozlov, Knox moves pretty well for a man his size and his work is pretty solid. (Knox did a good job keeping up with Mysterio on Monday’s RAW as well.) But he needs something—perhaps even a manager to serve as his mouthpiece. (I know a great one from Germantown, baby!) It was probably worth a spot in the Chamber to give him more of a superstar rub. Still, Knox is not quite over, and I’m surprised a guy like C.M. Punk didn’t get the nod over Knox or Kane.

Again, nice pacing to start, with Jericho and Mysterio getting the call. A shame these two have yet to be worked into a feud together on RAW. (Instead, Rey gets booked with Kane.) Later in the bout, Jericho slingshot Rey into the cage, but the masked man gripped chain links with both hands and scaled up the Chamber a la Spider-Man and nailed the former Y2J with an amazing hurricanrana.

The two again combined for a nice spot later, with Jericho catching Kane with the codebreaker, and Rey coming off the top of a Chamber pod to with flying bodypress to eliminate ‘Taker’s bro.

Rey sold like crazy for Knox, including a spot in which his foot got caught in the cage. Knox proceeded to bounce Rey off the Chamber, earning an “oooohh” from the crowd.

Another shame in today’s RAW/SMACKDOWN! environment: an Edge/Jericho alliance would be money, but the timing is not right. The two heels combined with Rey on a “Holy Shit”-inducing sunset-flip-from-the-top-rope/belly-to-back suplex spot, with Mysterio getting the worst of it.

Cena was up next, knocking on the pod door and waving at Edge in a nice moment before the buzzer sounded. (Edge had a similar bug-eyed moment earlier when Rey forcibly entered his pod when the buzzer signaled his entry into the bout–funny stuff.) Cena cleaned house before falling victim to a codebreaker, 619 and spear in succession to be eliminated in another surprise. Although I liked Edge’s early elimination from the SMACKDOWN! bout, getting rid of Cena so early pretty much guaranteed that Edge was going to steal another title. (Again, we did have that strap tease from Jericho regarding Flair, so that helped.) But once Jericho was gone, you knew it was Edge all the way. Still, Edge and Rey deserve credit for keeping the interest alive. All sorts of cool near pinfalls by Rey, with Edge barely kicking out each time—they had the crowd believing maybe, just maybe….

As Rey went for a dive on the catwalk outside the ring, Edge alertly used Mysterio’s momentum against him, sending him headfirst into one of the “bulletproof-glass pods.” Rey sold it beautifully, slowly getting to his feet, staggering like a boxer on the ropes before Edge speared him nearly out of his boots to take the World title.

Edge of His Teeth: The Rated-R Superstar outlasted Rey Mysterio to win the World title at NO WAY OUT.

Edge of His Teeth: The Rated-R Superstar outlasted Rey Mysterio to win the World title at NO WAY OUT.

Visually, a great close to the show, with Edge taunting the crowd and kissing the Big Gold Belt, with the giant WRESTLEMANIA star in hanging in the background.

Overall Rating: Thumbs Up

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