Wedged between the Royal Rumble and WrestleMania, the Elimination Chamber is constantly battling for fans' attention, money and energy. Every fan knows that the two biggest shows of the year are going to deliver.
The Elimination Chamber?
That's a riskier proposition. Some pay-per-views can feel like they are merely an extended version of WWE Raw, shows that are more about continuing the narrative leading into 'Mania than they are about delivering a great broadcast.
This year, that wasn't the case. This show delivered in a major way and set the stage for what should be a great WrestleMania.
Wrestling, of course, is complicated. A performer can lose a match but steal the whole show. Likewise, a winner can fail so badly in the ring that he loses ground in the company hierarchy and gets pushed down the card. The official winners and losers are merely written down. The real winners and losers are written in your heart and soul.
Who were the real winners and losers Sunday night? Click on to find out. Disagree. Come holler at me in the comments.
The Rock's match with CM Punk pulled out every shortcut in the book: multiple refs, interference from Punk's manager, Paul Heyman, and plenty of long rest periods for The Rock to regain his wind.
None of it mattered. At a certain point, Rock, at 40, was gassed to the point of no return. Carrying more muscle weight than he did even in his WWE prime, The Rock's body simply couldn't keep up with the pace Punk was setting.
Rock gets a ton of criticism from a certain subset of fans who are upset he isn't a full-time performer. On some levels, that's absurd. The Rock is a huge star and can and should be able to come back whenever he wants.
But it's beginning to look like those angry fans are correct, not on a political level, but on a practical one. The Rock's extended absences are hurting him in the ring—and I'm not sure he's able to carry his end of a world-class match anymore.
I had a pretty good idea that The Shield would win their match with the WWE babyface all-star team made up of Sheamus, John Cena and Ryback. After all, if they'd done the job, what would have been the point of the whole "Shield experiment"?
The real question was whether they could manage to look like they belonged in the same ring with WWE's best. A push means a lot in wrestling. But, eventually, you have to deliver. The bookers, the writers and Vince McMahon can only do so much. Ultimately, you have to perform at the level WWE fans expect from a main-eventer.
Could The Shield get the job done?
I think they did and then some. It was a really solid match with one of the most elaborately booked finishes we've seen in a long time. I came out of the bout wanting to see more—and that's really what it's all about in this business.
Workrate fans have to hate Tensai's transformation into a comedy figure. The former Prince Albert, after all, came back to the WWE after a tenure in Japan with great expectations.
He didn't live up to them.
The truth is, it was either a change of direction or the chopping block for Tensai—and there's no shame in the comedy game. Plenty of guys make a good living playing for laughs.
And, yes, Tensai's WWE Slammers skit with Brodus Clay was horrific on every level. But if you're a fan of Tensai, it should make you smile. He's sticking around. And that means one more chance to make his mark on the WWE Universe.
It's rare to see a match with this many moving parts go from beginning to end with no mistakes. These guys made it happen.
Henry came out of this a bigger star. Bryan and Kane are set for an explosive break. Jericho and Orton both looked strong. And Jack Swagger emerges to bring his new right-wing character into WrestleMania against Alberto Del Rio in a topical match likely designed to get cable news coverage.
That's a lot of narrative to work through. But they did it, all while putting on a great wrestling match. There were no weak links in this match. It entertained from start to finish, getting over all the feuds and characters while also being a heck of an action match.
Impressive stuff all around.
Mark Henry was eventually beaten in the Elimination Chamber. It took three men to do it, but they accomplished what they set out to do—eliminate the alpha dog.
But Henry isn't the type of guy to go easy. Before he left the arena, Henry was like a human atom bomb. Enough officials gathered to force him from the cage—but when he walked away, enough bodies were lying all around the forbidding structure that it looked like he was departing a war zone.
Jack Swagger is going on to WrestleMania, likely to feud with Alberto Del Rio. The buildup is sure to feature questionable interviews and quasi-racism. It should be exciting and embarrassing all at once. But Jack Swagger wasn't the real winner of the Elimination Chamber. That was Mark Henry.
Look, we all know that the WWE title is the real world's championship. The 10 pounds of gold that Alberto Del Rio carries is a secondary title. And, if you're an old-school fan, that's pretty darn sad.
The WWE won the wrestling war, not once, but twice. They deserve their belt to stand supreme. But why even use the other title? That's the belt Ric Flair carried to the ring. The one Sting took home for all the little Stingers. It's the belt Hulk Hogan spray-painted "NWO" on.
That world championship represents the history of this business. It deserves some respect. If you can't respect it, let it go. Send it home with Flair to sell on eBay when he runs short of cash.
Whatever you do, don't open the show with it. Open the show? With a belt that has represented excellence for so long? That doesn't feel right to me.
In the 1880s, Jigoro Kano synthesized the best fighting techniques in Japan into a new art he called Judo. "The Gentle Way" innovated the martial arts by focusing on techniques that could be trained at near full speed against a human opponent.
That meant Kano's students knew what worked and what didn't against a real person, not against a wooden block or the air. One of the techniques that worked well was called the juji-gatame.
It's a brutal and ingenious hold that focuses the power of the whole body on an opponent's elbow joint. Most of the world calls it the armbar. WWE refers to it as the "cross armbreaker."
Alberto Del Rio used the hold to beat The Big Show to retain the Heavyweight Championship. Or, rather, he used something that vaguely resembled it. Despite the armbar's focus on the elbow, Del Rio somehow made The Big Show tap when his enormous elbow was still completely bent.
I realize that I am deep in the weeds here. That we routinely suspend disbelief in pro wrestling, accepting the Irish whip. Chanting along as a wrestler lands 10 punches in a row on the top turnbuckle. Choosing to embrace the idea that a chop to the chest is a better move than a punch to the chin.
But when an armbar isn't even close to being locked out, it's not a submission hold. It's two guys lying on the ground. And that's not cool. Want to see an armbar? Watch Ronda Rousey at UFC 157. But you won't see one on WWE TV.
WWE Title Match
The Rock (c) def. CM Punk
Divas Championship Match
Kaitlyn (c) def. Tamina
Dolph Ziggler def. Kofi Kingston
Six-Man Tag Team Match
The Shield def. John Cena, Sheamus & Ryback
World Heavyweight Championship No. 1 Contender's Elimination Chamber Match
Jack Swagger def. Randy Orton, Chris Jericho, Mark Henry, Kane and Daniel Bryan
United States Championship Match
Antonio Cesaro (c) def. The Miz
World Heavyweight Championship Match
Alberto Del Rio (c) def. Big Show
Brodus Clay and Tensai def. Team Rhodes Scholars