The Elimination Chamber being in February has its merits. It keeps the identities of the main eventers unpredictable going into Wrestlemania, and it seemingly gives a clutch of guys ‘one last chance’ to make it into a main event spot for the Grand Daddy of Sports Entertainment. This year failed to produce a title change however, and in the World Heavyweight Chamber match last year, the champion Edge retained. The result of this is that up until six weeks before ‘Mania – 10 of the company’s top guys will have thwarted top level ambitions – their ‘big night’ in April will be at best a compromise. We are now seeing the urgent shuffling of upper mid-card/upper card talent into some kind of assortment of angles ahead of the big day.
Take Big Show, for example; after jostling around the World Title scene for the last few months, can he really be that excited about taking on Cody Rhodes for the Intercontinenal strap – can we really be all that excited about it?
I compared this year’s Wrestlemania build to that of 2001. Wrestlemania 17 was an excellent event, and is widely regarded as one of the strongest ‘Mania outings. It’s not my favourite, it’s not the greatest, perhaps, but it’s pretty close to a paradigmatic WWE showcase. In 2001, as with 2012, the 3 PPVs that have led up to the big night have seen exactly 29 male superstars compete in official matches, this is excluding the Royal Rumble match itself.
Of the 29 who have competed in the last three events (TLC, Royal Rumble, Elimination Chamber) 17 superstars have been around the WWE or World title scene in the last six months. Of the 29 who competed in the three events leading up to Wrestlemania 17, only six had been around the WWF title picture in the equivalent time span. This includes Rikishi, who featured in the Armageddon Hell in a Cell match among others, yet was perhaps never truly a realistic contender for the strap.
The result of this was a well balanced roster; established and popular competitors such as Chris Benoit, Chris Jericho, William Regal, and Kane had been competitive and dynamic in contending for the lower card belts. There was no need within the company for them to be drawn into the main event picture. The Elimination Chamber event results in a resort to the opposite situation. The Chamber demands that more people are drawn into the title pictures, let us not forget – the TWO title pictures, and therefore only serves to create a top heavy card, and an ignored underbelly to the company. Cody Rhodes’ dearth of title defences, and Jack Swagger’s anonymous reign as US champion are testament to this.
Back in 2001, only 8 of the 29 wrestlers who had graced the three PPVs before ‘Mania didn’t make the card. This list includes dear Steven Richards, who accompanied the Right to Censor, and the charming X-Pac who featured in the Dark match. For the majority of the other 21 superstars, they enjoyed matches involving a great deal of history between competitors.
Chris Benoit and Kurt Angle, who fought in an enthralling 14 minute match, shared a feud that had been brewing for a while, and theirs will go down as a historic feud involving an exceptional collection of match ups. Similarly, the TLC match involved the Hardy Boys, Edge & Christian, and the Dudleys, as well as the Austin/Rock main event, were matches that had occurred at Wrestlemanias past. Their placement on the card in 2001 paid witness to the underlying rivalry and history between the men involved. To a lesser extent, the RTC & Richards vs. APA & Tazz match was the resolution of a longstanding feud between the RTC and various chiselled, veteran superstars, with a point to make against the unpopular foursome.
It could be said that, unlike this year’s Triple H/Undertaker match, the oft-ignored 2001 clash between the two was a fairly impromptu arrangement. Similarly, the memorable Raven/Kane/Big Show Hardcore title brawl was not the cumulation of a long standing rivalry, but a fairly off the cuff composition by the writers. The entertaining Eddie Guerrero/Test match was also a fairly short term arrangement, with the European strap having not been defended in a PPV since the end of 2000, and historically, coming towards the end of its usefulness.
All of this is without even considering the pay off from the Shane/Vince feud, an encounter which foreshadowed the Alliance angle of 2001. On the night this Street Fight produced a resolution between Linda and Vince, as well as another confrontation between Trish and Stephanie, a mutual disdain that had run throughout 2001.
Compare that with this year; the card as it stands does feature two ‘long builds’ – the Rock/Cena mega match has famously been at least a year in the making, and despite weariness in some quarters concerning the over saturation with these two, I for one will be as excited as anyone to see them face-to-face, one-on-one. Similarly, despite another relatively lacklustre build, the Triple H/Undertaker match should be exciting, should be entertaining, and can hardly be said to involve a shallow rivalry.
But what about everyone else? Of the 29 superstars that have had matches in the last three PPVs, only 6 are currently scheduled in for Wrestlemania – a number perhaps soon to be brought to 8 with confirmation of a BigShow/Rhodes Intercontinental match. How can the WWE hope to produce Wrestlemanias that stand up to events past with such a neglect of the underbelly of the company and the midcard straps?
One suggestion may be to move the timing of the Elimination Chamber PPV. Whilst I am a massive fan of the match concept, and of the ‘theory’ behind its positioning in the calendar, the result is an unbalanced card and a fairly hurried (and ultimately unsatisfactory) fleshing out of the Wrestlemania card ahead of April 1st in the Sun Life Centre.