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Posted in: Just Business
Just Business: Elimination Chamber 2018 - The Performance Art Review
By Samuel 'Plan
Feb 28, 2018 - 8:41:07 PM

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Credit to @StevenFnBell

Elimination Chamber 2018


Watching pay-per-views live here in the UK can be a tough slog, especially when you’re doing it alone. Staying up until 4am in the morning is a tall order regardless of the reason why, so when the pay-per-view isn’t a particularly good one or, worse yet, when it’s particularly bad or feels particularly long, the task of watching live becomes even tougher. Luckily, I can say such was not the case for me with Elimination Chamber 2018.

Last Sunday, Monday Night Raw (MNR) provided us with an almost prototypical February pay-per-view. The results were all easy to predict, very little in the way of anything truly shocking happened and the entire three and a half hours was an exercise in getting from point a to a well-known point b in the most interesting fashion possible. While many might debate whether that lattermost objective was met successfully or not, Elimination Chamber 2018 did everything it needed to do by definition: it got MNR’s biggest matches to where they needed to be ready for the build to WrestleMania to begin in earnest. It was simple, steady-footed but, ultimately, I felt, still fun.

Mostly, anyway.

My name is Samuel ‘Plan and this is the Performance Art Review of Elimination Chamber 2018.

The First Ever Women’s Elimination Chamber Match: Cometh the Hour, Cometh the Bliss

These days, it seems like making history has become little more than just another part of the day job when you’re a female performer in WWE, and that’s a good thing. Last Sunday was no exception. It would be fair to say that the Women’s Revolution – now gawkily being termed the ‘Women’s Evolution’ – hasn’t always been smooth sailing, but the first ever female Chamber bout can certainly consider itself worthy of being among the company of the women’s finest historical successes.

Smartly constructed around the central conceit of the six women pairing up into respective friendships or alliances bred from necessity, the entire match was executed with admirably mature composure and marvellous depth of character, the women putting together a robust version of the sub-genre with a wonderful sense of escalation. Bayley and Sonya Deville started proceedings, and the danger ratcheted up rapidly when Mandy Rose entered the fray and Absolution proved, perhaps for the first time, to be a legitimately threatening unit. The action then escalated further when Sasha Banks was forced to use the Chamber’s unforgiving environment as a levelling device to offset the apparent numbers advantage of Absolution upon her own entrance. Finally, it was with a sense of generational defiance that Mickie James catapulted the match to its literal highest height, not only taking the fight to the self-revering Horsewomen Banks and Bayley, but also eliminating Deville with a tremendous press off the top of a pod.

It was the final three that saw the match’s greatest success, however: a subtle character-driven exercise in how to build to an expected climax excitedly. Alexa Bliss, entering with immense star power it has to be said, demonstrated her intelligence by maintaining distance between herself and the unholy alliance of her pursuers, knowing full well that Banks’ betrayal of Bayley was inevitable. When that betrayal came, the champion was zealous in her efforts to opportunistically take advantage, which she eventually, quite successfully managed to do by pinning Bayley and creating a much needed one on one situation with The Boss. Apparently, while her five opponents were studying Chamber matches, Bliss rather sensibly was instead studying her five opponents and their respective tells.

It was a strategy that came up trumps for her, as much to the credit of Bliss she demonstrated her evolving abilities as a champion learning to swim in the deep end by keeping up with Banks move for move, and eventually earning a victory the hard way. Her gloating red herring of a promo post-match was well earned, as was her declaration later that night that “nobody is ready for Alexa.” If her intelligent survivalist performance in the Chamber was anything to go by, she might just be right.

The Women Lay Siege to WrestleMania

Change is always a long and arduous process, but it isn’t always a noisy one. Sometimes - a lot of the time - it can labour away quietly in the background and it’s only once the new reality is fully formed do we realise we’ve been experiencing change firsthand. If the current qualitative trend set early this year by WWE’s women continues on to the Granddaddy itself, then the first quarter of 2018 might just prove to be just such a time. We are, after all, only six weeks away from the thirty-fourth Showcase of Immortals and, between the Women’s Rumble, the Women’s Chamber, the signing of Ronda Rousey and the developing issues between characters not even currently set for the two women’s title matches (traditionally the only women’s matches we ever see on a show like WrestleMania), it might just be, perhaps unexpectedly, a showcase dominated by the stars of the so-called ‘Women’s Evolution.’

I have come to believe this in part because of Asuka vs. Nia Jax, which demonstrated three nights ago that the women can come out of nowhere with a hipster classic just as much as they can come out of nowhere with an outright one in a main event slot.

While the growing focus on Asuka’s undefeated streak does lend cause for concern considering WWE’s proven track record of linear creative thinking, the Empress of Tomorrow’s latest encounter with the Irresistible Force was the kind of well-rounded piece of work very friendly to re-watches and rediscoveries. Wrestled with a speedy, blood-thirsty pace by both combatants, the exhilarating action was augmented by an elite adherence to character that saw Asuka as nothing other than a technician and Jax as nothing other than a beast. Theirs might have been a filler simply buying time for the women’s Rumble winner ahead of ‘Mania itself, but it was, nevertheless, an impressive tale of a soldier and a monster clashing with savage instinct and ending with raging vengeance.

This creative success was important, even if the stakes in the story weren’t. With all of the aforementioned developing feuds involving women throughout both brand’s divisions, for the first time we are facing a WrestleMania where the women may be featured on multiple matches throughout the undercard as well as in championship bouts, and all the turns of events involving the women since New Year, both big and small with Asuka vs. Jax merely the latest in an ever longer line, have been a very clearly sounded declaration: the women are setting the pace on the Road to WrestleMania, and it’s on the men to keep up.

The First Ever 7-Man Elimination Chamber Match: Transparent Intention Obscures Robust Characterisation

I must admit to a certain amount of disappointment in having seen such predominant negativity aimed towards the men’s Elimination Chamber Match last Sunday, not that I don’t understand it. The decision to have Braun Strowman eliminate five men only to fall predictably in the final hour to Roman Reigns not only felt typically heavy-handed from WWE, it also watched as terribly transparent. It remains a shame to me, however, that this admittedly awkward method has come to overshadow the one major positive about the main event from MNR’s latest pay-per-view offering beyond its fluid action.

Too often does a pay-per-view match in WWE today watch as having zero relation to the storyline that created it. Instead, many pay-per-view matches often feel interchangeable, like they could come at the end of any storyline at any time featuring anyone, instead of being a singular outcome of events that would never otherwise be possible.

Last Sunday bucked this trend, and instead stuck closely to further fleshing out the character insights provided by the much talked about Gauntlet Match from MNR two weeks ago now. I wrote at length in my Performance Art Raw View last week as to what I believed these character traits were, and I was overjoyed to see the amount of characterisation present in the men’s Chamber furthering those traits specifically. Indeed, from the very opening bell, the character depth was there.

Just like the Monday before, Miz tried desperately to use mitigating circumstances to his advantage only to fail when alliances never materialised and opportunism fell short. Just like the Monday before, Roman Reigns carried himself with the same presumptive swagger from the moment he entered, that here carried him to final victory because of the more multi-faceted action. Just like the Monday before, John Cena found himself once again out of his depth with the current crop of top tier talent, eliminated courtesy of a single Strowman Powerslam. Just like the Monday before, Braun Strowman almost came unstuck because of his love for relishing destruction instead of ending things quick, while Elias demonstrated his rapid adaptability, only for it to prove his undoing when he bit off more than he could chew in trying to lift Strowman on his shoulders. Just like the Monday before, Finn Bálor exhibited his lethal skill in his impressive late-game comeback against two thirds of The Shield and the Monster Among Men both and, just like the Monday before, Seth Rollins’ thirst for success proved a double-edged sword, carrying him to the final three but seeing him undermine his own alliance with Reigns in short order, thereby sentencing him to defeat at the infamous hands of Strowman.

Not for the first time, MNR presented a leviathan pay-per-view main event brimming with character depth overshadowed by the considerably less interesting logistics so transparently underpinning the creative decision making. My advice would be to certainly re-visit it, and to do so in a marathon double-bill alongside the Gauntlet Match from the Monday before; I’m sure such a viewing would drive home the same immense characterisation that has seen last Sunday’s men’s Chamber quickly cement itself as one of my favourites in years – this, in spite of its problematic ‘booking’ and inevitable winner.

In Closing

Outside of its two Elimination Chamber Matches and a surprisingly wonderful singles bout between Asuka and Jax, the rest of last Sunday’s show was nothing to write home about. The contract signing was awkward, the tag bout was plain and the less said about the disaster of a presentation that was Hardy vs. Wyatt the better.

Elimination Chamber 2018 was never going to be an instant classic though, and it never needed to be. It just had to be sure-footed and solid, and thanks to the tremendous achievements of the women and the unrecognised strengths of the main event, I believe that it very much was.

I’ll be back on Friday with a special presentation of the first edition of an excellent new WrestleMania themed collaborative series coming to you straight out of the Columns Forum – you can visit that Forum, full of excellent wrestling writing of its own and free for anyone to sign up and have a go at a column themselves, by clicking here! But until then, please do share with me your thoughts on last Sunday’s event and how you have come to feel about it over the course of the last half a week in the comments below or over on social media!

Don’t forget to pick up your copy of my book, 101 WWE Matches To See Before You Die, from the LOP Store today! Simply click here to find mine and a host of other books and merchandise on offer, all courtesy of LOP’s own!

For more of my thoughts on the rest of the show, and WWE in general, click here to add me on Facebook!

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