World Wrestling Entertainment has pulled no punches over the last year in their gimmick-related pay-per-view market, so when February’s No Way Out received a similar treatment to those from the past Fall, fans were numbing to the overhaul.
A pay-per-view full of submission matches? Tables, Ladders, and Chairs matches? Hell-in-a-Cell matches? The WWE was all over it in 2009.
In 2010, the WWE would turn its attention to one of the most innovative contests in the history of sports entertainment: The Elimination Chamber.
What makes this gimmick match one of the most provocative and consistently anticipated of the year?
Well, to their credit, the bookers at WWE recognized a good thing when they had it with the brainchild of Eric Bischoff, and going one further, they recognized that each contest would need to be more remarkable than the last.
For those who are unfamiliar with the Elimination Chamber (or the entire PPV dedicated to it this month), here’s your brief history.
In October 2002, RAW General Manager Eric Bischoff made it apparent that he was concocting an all new match for the WWE audience. As a counter to the SmackDown Hell in a Cell match at No Mercy, Bischoff alluded to a mysterious chamber, which would take match concepts from the Royal Rumble, Survivor Series, and WarGames.
Could a wrestling purist ask for better? The WWE had already well established the popularity of traditional Survivor Series matches as well as the Royal Rumble, but finally, we had WWE appealing to the masses that enjoyed the NWA/WCW-created WarGames contests. What was not to love?
The menacing structure, made of steel, chain, and reportedly bulletproof glass (which would later prove not to be human proof), stood larger than any single structure in the history of professional wrestling.
Forget your Cells and Cages, the Chamber was something awesome we had never seen before. In fact, WWE made a point of only showing the Chamber after fans ordered the 2002 Survivor Series. If you wanted even to see what it looks like, you’d have to pay the price.
The rules, on the other hand, were easy enough to pick up that nobody had to worry too terribly about complications.
Six men are eligible to compete in an Elimination Chamber match. Two start in the ring, the other four each locked into individual pods just outside the ring. Every five minutes, another pod opens at random. Eliminations occur via pin fall or submission, and the last man standing wins.
In essence, WWE had struck gold again with a very simple idea that felt altogether fresh despite borrowing from the roots of much more prestigious affairs.
The First One: Survivor Series 2002
What better place to unveil a new, demonic structure than Madison Square Garden? The first Elimination Chamber match featured all the top talents from Monday Night RAW: Shawn Michaels, Chris Jericho, Booker T, Rob Van Dam, Kane, and defending World Heavyweight Champion Triple H.
The match itself delivered an epic story of revenge, retribution, and opportunity. With Rob Van Dam and Triple H starting it off, nobody knew quite what was in store over the next half hour.
Van Dam’s aerial assault from the top of the structure, combined with Spider-Man acrobatics, stole the show early on. Booker T excelled with sneaky strikes and missile dropkicks from his WCW days. The Big Red Machine Kane was poised to take control, until all remaining participants teamed up to eliminate the monster in a surprising turn of events.
And just when it looked impossible, Shawn Michaels mounted the incredible comeback, eliminating Chris Jericho and a badly bloodied Triple H to win his first ever World Heavyweight Championship.
The 2002 Survivor Series proved to be a healthy and refreshing change of pace for a franchise that had seemingly lost its identity over the past six months. It helped to define what “WWE” programming was becoming in the wake of the Attitude era unraveling.
Abbreviated Chaos: SummerSlam 2003
It was only natural that the Elimination Chamber match would return within a year. It had grown immensely in popularity since its first appearance, and with another World Heavyweight Title match on the horizon, the RAW brand once again inherited the contest.
But this year, due to time constraints on a heavily-booked SummerSlam card, many of the rules were altered to fit within the allotted remaining time.
The first Chamber match elapsed nearly 40 minutes. This one wouldn’t go half of that, as Kevin Nash, Randy Orton, Shawn Michaels, World Champion Triple H, Chris Jericho, and Goldberg took to action. While it may not have been the best execution of such a match, this one, from start to finish, was total chaos.
A longstanding rivalry between Shawn Michaels and Chris Jericho got things going early, but sooner rather than later, it was all Bill Goldberg. With Kevin Nash out of the picture, Goldberg decimated Randy Orton, Shawn Michaels, and Chris Jericho before the final entrant, Triple H, had even been released from his pod.
But as fate would have it, Goldberg could not conquer the Game on this evening, as a little extra help from the outside (and a sledgehammer) helped Triple H retain his championship.
The backlash for this abbreviated version of the match was growing in the hours that followed. Fans and critics alike panned the second incarnation of the Elimination Chamber, particularly the finish, and the WWE would be left to wonder if they had already spoiled a valuable gimmick. While it took only nine months for the WWE to produce a second Chamber after the first, we would not see the Elimination Chamber match again for over a year.
Back to Basics: New Year’s Revolution 2005
During the past five years, the WWE has tinkered with their pay-per-view formats more often than we care to remember. When they expanded their yearly lineup to include more than one PPV a month, fans needed a little extra incentive to order those cards. Reenter the Elimination Chamber, which, after a 2004 vacation, would return to resolve the issue of a vacated World Heavyweight Championship on RAW.
The usual suspects were there: Randy Orton, Triple H, and Chris Jericho. Joining them were Chamber newcomers Edge, Chris Benoit, and the wildcard of the contest, Batista. With Shawn Michaels as special guest referee, the fans were in for a treat as the story of betrayal and opportunity again unfolded. Whereas the last Chamber match failed to bridge 20 minutes, no man would be eliminated until that time in 2005.
In fact, the eliminations were so widespread that everybody had a golden opportunity to shine in this match. Eventually, it came down to Batista’s allegiances, Randy Orton’s desire, and Triple H’s intelligence. With a confrontation pending, Orton struck, stunning the audience with a trademark RKO. But when it came down to one-on-one, it would be the Chamber veteran on top once again, as Triple H reclaimed his World Heavyweight Championship.
Fans around the world praised the contest for returning to what makes the Elimination Chamber special, and live in Puerto Rico, where the event took place, fans were alive for this contest, unlike the rest of the pay-per-view. Perhaps the Chamber had found its new yearly home.
Surprise, Disappointment, and Surprise Again: New Year’s Revolution 2006
Back at the top of the new year once again, this Elimination Chamber would help to up the ante in regards to true surprise for the WWE. With the WWE title on the line for the first time in a Chamber Match, it was the unpopular fan favorite John Cena defending against Kane, Shawn Michaels, Kurt Angle, Carlito, and Chris Masters. During the worst dry spell of Cena’s career, fans were clamoring for anyone to defeat the Champ.
But this Elimination Chamber match was different. It helped to set the tone for what an Elimination Chamber match was going to be from then on out: total originality and surprise. When Carlito and Chris Masters teamed up, nobody was surprised. When Kurt Angle was the first man eliminated, the fans erupted in shock. And then again, when Kane and Shawn Michaels were the next two out.
WWE booked the Chamber with a shocking conclusion: none of the favorites were challenging John Cena’s title reign. It was the youngsters, Masters and Carlito, who made the biggest statement. When Cena triumphed, fans were again left in disappointment after a grueling affair produced less than favorable results.
Suddenly, and without warning, Edge hit the ring. Mr. Money in the Bank cashed in his title shot and beat a fallen Cena for the title at the match conclusion.
It was absolutely brilliant. Not only had WWE booked a completely unpredictable Chamber match, but they managed to intertwine it with another of their more popular gimmick matches for the ultimate payoff. If they wanted to top that, they’d have to go to the land of Extreme for a new vision.
Unfamiliar Territory: December to Dismember 2006
WWE’s ECW is coming to an end, and the beginning of that drawn-out climax happened inside the “Extreme” Elimination Chamber. You see, it was Extreme because the Chamber now included weapons for the six ECW superstars to clash with. With the ECW title on the line and Rob Van Dam, Hardcore Holly, Bobby Lashley, Test, C.M. Punk, and champion Big Show contending, you could bet this would be unique. In reality, it was unique, and for all the wrong reasons.
As the main event on an ECW-exclusive pay-per-view, fans were bewildered as to why Paul Heyman would select an Eric Bischoff-created oddity to showcase his performers. Then Sabu, who is as ECW as it gets, was pulled from the contest in favor of Hardcore Holly.
Needless to say, things went awry quite quickly. The contest looked like it had been booked for nearly an hour of hardcore action, and that was a plus, but it ended in nearly half the time, leaving fans feeling ripped off on their three-hour pay-per-view guarantee.
WWE learned a valuable lesson when fans berated Lashley’s victory after a spear on the Big Show. This contest wasn’t “ECW,” and that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. The Elimination Chamber was recognized now as a legitimate WWE match.
So if you’re attempting to book an “ECW” card, you can’t use it as an ECW Match. If WCW had attempted to do a Royal Rumble match (World War 3, anyone?), fans would have been just as critical.
Much like it had been after SummerSlam 2003, the Chamber was shelved indefinitely and many fans believed they wouldn’t get to see it again. But of course, it was only a matter of time before the WWE created a solution once again.
Two for the Price of One: No Way Out 2008
Thanks to some clever booking, the WWE finally figured out the key to success with the Elimination Chamber in 2008. Sure, it appeared to be successful when it took place just before the Royal Rumble, but the truth of the matter was that it was the best fit as the middle man between the Rumble and WrestleMania.
And so it came to be that the No Way Out pay-per-view would exclusively feature the Chamber as a means of earning a spot in the WrestleMania main event.
Literally the last chance opportunity, 2008 determined two number one contenders via two Chamber matches. The pundits had their say within moments, believing that this kind of saturation could kill the commodity and would ruin WWE’s attempt to monetize this content.
But the bright side was that fans ordering the pay-per-views and punching their tickets at the box office were being promised double the action for the same standardized price. It was a genius move, but they would need the right formula to make it work.
And again, the formula wasn’t too far from perfect. With one SmackDown/ECW chamber match and one RAW chamber match on the slate, they were spread apart from each other far enough that they could each have enough time to showcase the talent.
Then, the two contests were drastically different from one another, giving fans the opportunity to debate which match they felt was better whilst also keeping them from perpetual boredom of seeing the same match they saw two hours earlier.
The SmackDown/ECW Chamber match went first. It was a long affair that played out methodically for the six competitors. With Batista and the Undertaker disposing of the majority of their opponents (The Great Khali, Big Daddy V, and Finlay, who himself eliminated MVP), the two were set to recapture some magic from WrestleMania 23 one year earlier.
It was outstanding that the big men, all of them, were put in a situation where they couldn’t possibly look as awful as they do in standard mat wrestling. The Undertaker’s tombstone victory served as a barometer for the future on the Chamber.
RAW’s Chamber match, on the other hand, headlined the evening in dramatic fashion. It was fast-paced form the opening bell and featured finishing moves aplenty. Within 15 minutes, JBL was eliminated with a Chris Jericho Codebreaker. Umaga was next, taking everybody’s best on his way out. Then Jericho was blindsided with Sweet Chin Music and pinned. And then Shawn Michaels suffered a similar fate as Umaga when he was double-teamed by Jeff Hardy and Triple H.
In the end, when it looked as if Hardy had finally peaked, Triple H once again dashed the dreams of the up and comer to claim his spot at WrestleMania XXIV.
Two chamber matches on one card? You can’t do it, unless you offer two distinctly different products like this. How could they top themselves this time?
All About the Story, No Way Out 2009
Circumstances as they were, it was time to change the stakes. Now, the two Elimination Chamber format would include not one, but both World titles in a single evening. Want to go to WrestleMania? Do it as the champion. Such was the case when the WWE executed two more Elimination Chamber matches for the 2009 No Way Out event.
At this point, the WWE had done a fantastic job of showcasing the Elimination Chamber match as something that they “do” with great flash and pizazz. Surely it was getting harder to surprise the audience and give them another original concept within the match, right? Wrong. WWE had yet another ace up their sleeve.
The WWE title match opened the show, featuring the champion Edge defending against Triple H, Jeff Hardy, Vladimir Kozlov, the Big Show, and The Undertaker. Three minutes into the match, it happened: Edge was pinned.
In the past, when the title was on the line, the Champion either retained or was the last entrant eliminated, but certainly not the first. Edge’s elimination was incredible, as we would go another 20 minutes before anyone else bit the dust.
The Undertaker hit Vladimir Kozlov with the last ride to send him packing, much to the elation of a crowd that was tired of bad Kozlov matches. As was becoming the trend, the Big Show suffered the wrath of the mass-finisher elimination, and then Hardy, a dark horse pick from the start, took the tombstone piledriver elimination.
In the end, it was down to two of the greatest of all time competing for the WWE title, and for the fourth time in his career, Triple H prevailed as the winner. If there is any complaint about the Chamber matches as a whole, its that Helmsley wins them far too often.
How could WWE top the shock and awe of the Rated-R Superstar’s early departure? By giving him a second chance, of course.
In the main event, World Heavyweight Title match, Kofi Kingston was abruptly attacked on his way into the match by the unruly Edge, who then locked himself inside Kofi’s pod and forcefully reentered the title hunt. Joined by Rey Mysterio, Chris Jericho, World Champion John Cena, Kane, and Mike Knox, Edge was the biggest x-factor in a match that most had chalked up for Cena.
Kane and Mike Knox bowed out quickly, and as the last entrant in, Cena’s odds of winning increased ten-fold. But then, in an incredible turn of events, Cena took the Codebreaker from Jericho, 619 from Mysterio, and a spear by Edge that led to the end of his title reign.
Edge would go on to steal the match and the title in unbelievable fashion. It was truly a moment that you had to watch live to comprehend, as any attempt to explain the night’s events inside the Elimination Chamber would have baffled those who missed it.
By the Numbers
As we enter the next generation of Elimination Chamber matches in 2010, one has to wonder what the WWE will do next with what is rapidly become its most successful commodity.
Buy-rates for the former-No Way Out pay-per-view are up, and the Chamber brings a level of intrigue that opens all kinds of possibilities for the biggest show of the year. To help better bring clarity to this year’s event, let’s look at the past for any important statistics to guide us.
Triple H has competed in five of nine Elimination Chamber matches, winning four of them overall. This will be his sixth, and given his four-Chamber win streak, has the Game got the competitive edge over the rest of the RAW roster?
And speaking of veterans, Chris Jericho will also be fighting in his sixth Chamber match, but he’s 0-5 thus far. Is it time for Y2J to finally get the win?
Both the Undertaker and John Cena are 1-1 in Elimination Chamber matches, each hoping to forget about their 2009 performances in the contest. For the Undertaker, he’ll attempt to become only the third man to ever successfully defend a title inside the structure. As for Cena, his worst enemy inside the Chamber, Edge, won’t be competing in either match this year.
Could this be the window Cena needs to reclaim the WWE Title?
It has been five years since Randy Orton participated in an Elimination Chamber match. It has been three years for C.M. Punk. Neither was all too successful in their previous outings, posting a combined record of 0-3.
Can the Viper or the Straight-Edge Savior steal a win the way the Rated-R Superstar has in the past?
Rey Mysterio was a three-count away from winning last year, and Kofi Kingston was taken out before he got his opportunity. Can both use their crushing disappointments to propel them as unlikely underdogs?
Finally, R-Truth, John Morrison, Ted DiBiase, and WWE Champion Sheamus will all be competing in Satan’s Structure for the first time in their respective careers. Only four have ever won their first Chamber appearance, leaving little room for error if any of these future stars are going to fulfill their WrestleMania destiny.
Any way you slice it, Elimination Chamber certainly has all the traction to become as big a staple of WWE programming as the big four pay-per-views you know and love to this day, and that’s really saying something.
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