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With WrestleMania a little more than a month away, not a whole lot is known about the potential card for the biggest show of the year. On the RAW side in particular, the only thing we know for sure heading into Elimination Chamber this Sunday is that Asuka has a title shot at WrestleMania, although we don't know whether she will choose the RAW Women's Championship, or the SmackDown version.
What takes place at Elimination Chamber will likely define a bulk of the WrestleMania card. The winner of both chamber matches will either get a world title shot at WrestleMania (men's) or actually BE the women's champion for WrestleMania. In addition, Ronda Rousey will "officially" sign a contract with WWE, which will surely have an angle involved that will lead to some form of match at WrestleMania.
The men's chamber match involves seven men, all of whom are vying for a spot at WrestleMania. Let's take a look at each of them and how Sunday will Impact their plans for WrestleMania.
Roman Reigns: The odds-on favorite, Reigns has been groomed for the main event of WrestleMania since before last year's show, with the plan to be Reigns vs Brock Lesnar for the Universal Championship. With WrestleMania creeping closer, the plan looks like it hasn't changed. Reigns has been kept away from Lesnar, who has dispatched all challengers since regaining the title from Goldberg last year. Reigns getting beaten on RAW on Monday historically means that he has a good chance to win the match at Elimination Chamber. Plans can always change, but Reigns looks like he is going to win this match Sunday.
Seth Rollins: Rollins was given a massive boost on Monday when he lasted over an hour in a gauntlet match on RAW and gaining clean victories over John Cena and Roman Reigns. Really, it is hard to imagine someone getting a bigger push over an hour of television than Rollins did. Now, in a vacuum that sounds impressive, but it is hard to figure out if that means anything for the match on Sunday. Throughout the last year, Rollins has fallen down the pecking order, and in this match he is conservatively the fourth most important talent, behind Reigns, Cena and Strowman. Up until Monday night, Rollins had spent the last couple of months working a mid-card program with Jason Jordan. Rollins looked like the top babyface in the company on Monday; but I don't know how serious WWE is going to take him on Sunday. If he somehow wins the Elimination Chamber; well that means something significant has changed in WWE's plans for the future.
Braun Strowman: If Reigns has a true rival for the role of future face of the company, it is Strowman. The gauntlet match on Monday ended with Strowman easily destroying The Miz and the Miztourage as the crowd cheered while Strowman pulverized the heels. The simple fact is WWE couldn't have done that exact same segment with Reigns in that role because the fans wouldn't cheer for him; something that is kind of important when you are considering who the face of the company should be. Strowman has been protected all year, the only flaw a clean loss to Lesnar last fall, and if there is someone WWE is going to pick over Reigns, it would be Strowman. I don't think he wins at Elimination Chamber though; he already has challenged Lesnar for the Universal title three times over the last year; I'm not sure WWE could go with Strowman vs Lesnar again for the WrestleMania main event; although it could be a multi-man match.
John Cena: Cena has returned to WWE full-time to apparently insult everyone's intelligence. For some bizarre reason, WWE has decided to have Cena go with a storyline where he doesn't know if he can get on the card at WrestleMania. For starters, anyone that watches WWE, even small children, knows that barring injury Cena is going to be on the card at WrestleMania because he is still the company's biggest star. Secondly, everyone gets on the WrestleMania card; at the very least Cena could get into the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal. Lastly, with the exception of Shinsuke Nakamura and AJ Styles; no other match on the card has been announced, so Cena's insistence that winning the chamber match is his LAST CHANCE TO GET TO WRESTLEMANIA, doesn't even make sense in kayfabe. He won't win the chamber, but something may happen to set up his match at WrestleMania, perhaps with The Undertaker.
The Miz: The Miz is only one of two true heels in this match; and he plays his role well. He isn't going to win the match; but I could see a scenario unfolding where Strowman is overwhelmed by everyone in the match; Cena hits an AA, Reigns a spear, Rollins the ripcord knee, Balor the double stomp, Elias the Drift Away, and Miz capitalizes on it and gets the pin. That finish protects Strowman, gives Miz something to run his mouth about, and sets up the rumored match between the two for the Intercontinental Championship at WrestleMania.
Finn Balor: Balor, like Rollins, has been a bit of an afterthought thanks to injuries and inconsistent booking. He still gets a pop and despite some questionable battles with Kane, he hasn't been buried to the degree that he can't salvage his momentum and turn into an established main event star. Balor is the kind of guy who could last until the final two and get pinned after a great effort, and hopefully he finds himself with a decent match at WrestleMania. The worst case scenario is he gets swallowed up in a match with bigger stars and ends up in the battle royal at WrestleMania.
Elias: Elias is by far the least-established wrestler in the match; so in a way he has a lot to gain. Elias has been able to get a reaction as a heel with his guitar gimmick, but his work in the ring has left a lot to be desired. A really good showing at Elimination Chamber and he could be elevated to another level. My biggest issue with Elias is that he gets a reaction during his bits; but once the bell rings the fans don't care about his matches. This was evident during his match on Monday, where the crowd was hot after Rollins pinned Cena, and then Elias came out and the crowd died, even after he pinned Rollins, which should have been some easy heat. I think Elias' future is as a mid-card guy that can work with the top stars occasionally, but will never really win a feud with any of them. His ceiling is probably something in between Dolph Ziggler and The Miz.
The women's Elimination Chamber match naturally lacks the star power that the men's match has; but it also opens more possibilities. Alexa Bliss as the champion makes the most sense to retain with Asuka lurking on the other side. Asuka as the unbeatable babyface is the perfect opponent for the cowardly heel who has held the title for a long period of time. However, I don't find Bliss to be a particularly interesting opponent for Asuka. Bliss is at her best in the build-up for feuds and since Asuka isn't much of a promo, I'm not sure how effective a feud between them is going to be.
I think a better scenario would be Sasha Banks beating Bliss at Elimination Chamber and then facing Asuka at WrestleMania. Banks is more versatile than Bliss as a performer, and is a significantly better worker than Bliss. If Asuka is going to have a classic match at WrestleMania, Banks is probably the best opponent for her to do that with. Banks can also match Bliss' swagger and charisma, and playing a heel against Asuka would probably be a benefit to her career moving forward.
I find it hard to believe any of the other performers in the chamber winning the match. Bayley has been slotted at a certain spot on the card and that isn't defending the title this year at WrestleMania. The same can be said for Mickie James.
Sonya Deville and Mandy Rose are also in the match as members of Absoultion. Since debuting, Absolution really hasn't done anything to make me care about them. I have no idea why they are together as a unit and what their goals are. Obviously Paige's injury has derailed their plans, but since then, even with Paige as their manager, they don't engage in storylines and I have no idea what their purpose is. All I see is two green workers who don't cut good promos.
To me, Absolution (and the Riott Squad) were brought up to WWE to give greater depth to the women's division, which is a fine goal, but they at least need a purpose. What it looks like is that WWE needed an excuse to bring five women up from NXT; so the easiest way was to make them a faction. They also couldn't bring up any of the real difference makers in NXT because that division needs to have a real NXT Women's Champion and challengers, so that meant they couldn't bring up Ember Moon, Nikki Cross, Peyton Royce or Billie Kay, or other established talent. So they had to bring up women who were not ready for the main roster, and they also didn't have a real storyline for them to come up. The result is both groups just feel like bland foils for the baby faces on the roster.
It should be noted that Asuka getting a singles match at WrestleMania is not guaranteed; she needs to win her match Sunday against Nia Jax or else Jax also gets in on the match at WrestleMania. Considering Asuka's gimmick is that she is undefeated, I don't see Jax beating her and breaking the streak before WrestleMania.
The card is rounded out by Bray Wyatt vs Matt Hardy as they continue their bizarre feud. Wyatt continues his streak of every single program he is in being detrimental to his opponent. Hardy has tried hard, but I think people overestimated the possibility of the "broken" gimmick to get over with the mass WWE audience. Getting over in Impact, with 400 people in the arena, is a lot different than getting over with 10,000 people in the arena, many of whom are not familiar with the gimmick.
The last match announced is the RAW Tag Team Championships between The Bar and Titus Worldwide. With Jordan going down WWE really had to scramble to elevate another team to wrestle The Bar, and they settled on Titus Worldwide over Anderson and Gallows and The Revival. I don't love the decision, but Apollo (don't call him Crews) is a great athlete and Titus isn't a good wrestler but does a lot of good stuff for the company, so it is nice to see him get a small push.
I think after Elimination Chamber, WWE will have tipped their hand for most of the major matches at WrestleMania. I think Reigns vs Lesnar will be locked in, as well as Bliss/Banks vs Asuka. We also will likely have an idea what Rousey is doing, which very well might end up being the biggest match on the card depending on who her program is with. There is also potential to find out what Cena is going to be doing, as well as a Miz/Strowman program. I don't know how great the show is going to be from a match quality standpoint; only the men's chamber match feels like a lock to be a good match, but if you are interested in finding out what is going to happen at WrestleMania, Elimination Chamber is the show for you.
Must Watch Matches:
RAW Gauntlet Match: ****1/4 - WWE RAW 2/19/18
WALTER vs Timothy Thatcher: ****1/4 - PROGRESS Chapter 62