On February 17, World Wrestling Entertainment held its Elimination Chamber pay-per-view, live from the Toyota Center in Houston, Texas. The second to last major event before WrestleMania, it is a prominent stop en route to sports entertainment’s biggest spectacle. “‘Mania,” as many fans call it, is the biggest wrestling event of the year — tens of thousands of people gather to watch the WWE’s top matches, and is often the only time of year where professional wrestling enters the mainstream media focus. Thus, for performers, it’s imperative to make it onto the WrestleMania card, to have their moment while the whole world watches. While the groundwork has been laid for WrestleMania’s marquee matches, the event offers another shot at glory — that is, for those who survive.
The pay-per-view derives its namesake from its gruesome main event, the Elimination Chamber — a 27-foot tall, steel enclosure, where six competitors do battle, but only the winner survives. With two competitors starting in the ring, the remaining four start in pods, which are unlocked at intervals to allow the wrestlers into the ring. With no disqualifications or limits, the only restriction is one’s imagination, and how far one is willing to go for a shot at wrestling immortality. While there are seven matches during the event, here are the storylines around the two biggest matches of the night — the Chamber matches.
First, for women’s wrestling, the revolution continued, as female superstars have firsts in two regards — the WWE Women’s Tag Team Championships, and the first Women’s Tag Team Elimination Chamber match. In a surprise announcement last Christmas Eve, WWE Chairman Vince McMahon,in a Santa costume of all things, declared the creation of tag team championships for women. Despite not being closely involved with either RAW or SmackDown programming over the last few years, McMahon came out to announce the titles, a head-scratcher to many fans. Over the following weeks, Alexa Bliss, a then-injured fan favorite, unveiled the details surrounding the titles.hey were not brand-exclusive, so female wrestlers from both of WWE’s prominent brands (RAW and SmackDown Live) could compete for the titles. In addition, the titles would be contested within the Elimination Chamber match, with 3 female tag teams from RAW and 3 from SmackDown, all locked within the Chamber and left to duke it out until one team would be left standing. After several qualifying matches, six teams would enter the Chamber: — Sasha Banks and Bayley (RAW), Liv Morgan and Sarah Logan (RAW), Nia Jax and Tamina (RAW), Sonya Deville and Mandy Rose (SmackDown), Carmella and Naomi (SmackDown) and Peyton Royce and Billie Kay (SmackDown).
For every team in the Women’s Chamber Match, each had its own unique personal background, cohesion and reason for winning the tag team titles, giving them a special flair. For Sasha Banks and Bayley, two best friends, it was about proving the power of their friendship— — that no matter what the odds or obstacles, their bond could overcome anything. With roots leading back to their time in WWE’s developmental brand, NXT, they had perhaps the tightest friendship of any duo in the match. Meanwhile, for Nia Jax and Tamina, the opposite was true — while the friction and lack of affection between the two is very clear, so are their strengths — power, power, and more power. Easily the most intimidating duo in the match, their goals were to bludgeon their way to the tag titles, friendships be damned.
Peyton Royce and Billie Kay, while similar to Banks and Bayley, added another dimension to the standard ‘best-friend’ narrative — annoyance and arrogance. Refusing the concept that attaining victory would be a struggle, their goals are to snatch the titles — and look ah-may-zing while doing it. For Sarah Logan and Liv Morgan, it was about pleasing their leader, Ruby Riott, who accompanied them on their RAW debut in 2017, and stood by them ever since. Though the trio, known as the Riott Squad, have been a force on RAW for the past year or so, they had no championship gold to show for it. That all had a chance to change, though, as Riott faced RAW Women’s Champion Ronda Rousey for her championship. While their main hope was to crown their leader as champion, Logan and Morgan grabbing the titles would be the cherry on top for the Riott Squad.
For Mandy Rose and Sonya Deville, it was the same journey, minus their captain. Formerly in a faction known as Absolution, the two were left to drift after the sudden retirement of their leader, former female superstar Paige. While the two have garnered some success in small rivalries, they have been largely aimless. While not replacing their third member, winning the tag championships would finally give them the identity they’ve so desperately lacked. Finally, for Naomi and Carmella, it’s a tale of serendipity — two former champions that didn’t really know each other or get along, randomly thrown together, and going on a sudden streak of wins. Though perhaps not as long-lasting as the other tag teams in the match, their wave of sudden luck and championship pedigree just might have carried them to inaugural title reigns.
For the men’s side of the card, the Elimination Chamber match revolved around the SmackDown brand, with the WWE World Championship (SmackDown’s signature title) up for grabs. The development of this Chamber match followed an even more bizarre path, somehow, than even Vince McMahon in a Santa costume. After retaining his title against AJ Styles in a championship match at the Royal Rumble with interference, WWE Champion Daniel Bryan announced the creation of a new world championship. His character, one of essentially weaponized environmentalism — screaming at fans about being fickle, consuming non-vegan foods, and not being environmentally conscious enough — disapproved of the existing WWE Championship (made of leather, jewels and gold), so in front of a live SmackDown crowd, he threw the title in the trash, replacing it instead with an “environmentally-conscious” championship made of hemp — for a visual, basically imagine your standard cardboard box championship, but slightly fancier. For fans, the new championship reflected its champion perfectly — simple, bold, and more than a little bit questionable.
He also introduced his “intellectual brother and peer” Rowan, a towering, bearded brawler whose primary job in matches was to intervene, interfere and make sure Bryan would never lose. As five challengers lined up for Bryan’s title — AJ Styles, Samoa Joe, Jeff Hardy, Randy Orton and Mustafa Ali — Bryan claimed none of them were fit for the title, and none of them would face him for the title. Unfortunately, WWE Chief Operating Officer and former 14-time WWE champion Triple H has a way with words, as he screwed over Bryan while agreeing with him. Bryan wouldn’t be facing any of them for the title — he would be facing all of them for the title, in the Elimination Chamber Match. So the match was set — Bryan, defending his title against Orton, Styles, Joe, Hardy and Ali. In the weeks leading up to the Chamber match, though, Orton and Joe, both ruthless, dark villains, repeatedly attacked Ali (a fan favorite), sidelining him and forcing him out of the match with injuries. But in his place, another fan favorite stepped in — Kofi Kingston, a member of one of wrestling’s most popular modern trios — The New Day. With Ali’s blessing to Kingston, the match was finalized — Bryan, putting the title up for grabs against Orton, Hardy, Joe, Kingston and Styles.
As before, each superstar had their own personal rationale, background and advantages for winning the match. First, for Bryan, it was about keeping his championship, and sticking it to the fans. After years and years of being a fan favorite, he finally realized how “twisted” and “fickle” his supporters were, and how little they truly cared about the causes he believed in. For him, keeping the title would be the best way to continue forcing the fans to give him attention, and to point out the error of their non-environmental ways. A technically-skilled wrestler and former world champion, he has the tools to beat the best fighters in the business — though a 7-foot tall, lumbering giant doesn’t hurt to have at ringside either. Meanwhile, for Styles, it was about redemption — after holding the title for over a year, to lose the title to Bryan off a low-blow was an embarrassment, cemented by the sheer idiocy of the new champ’s conduct. To the former champ, SmackDown is the House that AJ Styles built, and his only goal is to take it back — by any means necessary. Every bit as skilled as Bryan, Styles has something else to give him an edge, brought out by Vince McMahon after the latter had insulted him and called him out — ruthless aggression.
For Randy Orton, by contrast, aggression is his middle name. A 13-time world champion unafraid to destroy anybody in his way, he has no limit to his barbarity (pulling a screwdriver through Jeff Hardy’s earlobe would suggest as much), and is driven by one thing — jealousy. Watching younger, more exciting superstars slowly usurp his once meteoric popularity, the 38-year old Orton’s goal was to destroy this new generation, those that sit and eat at the table he set for them, without so much (in his eyes) as recognition. In addition to his sheer athleticism and demented imagination, Orton also had the one equalizer that could win him the title in an instant, the three most destructive letters (in his words) in professional wrestling — RKO.
To Jeff Hardy, much like Rose and Deville, it was about identity. After losing to Orton in a Hell in a Cell match, Hardy has been mostly directionless, feuding with countless people and winning a few matches, but never having it amount to much. The former WWE and World Heavyweight Champion, once beating Triple H and Randy Orton, seems to have lost his step, and his confidence. To possibly save a career that seems to be declining without end, winning the title was a must. Meanwhile, for Samoa Joe, it was all about proving a point. With his suffocating submission moves, he’s put every single opponent in the Chamber to sleep on several occasions. But despite bringing every superstar in WWE to their knees (including the seemingly-invincible Brock Lesnar), he hasn’t had a single title to show for it. With his inescapable submission moves, confidence and scathing promos, a title would be the ultimate proving point for Joe — proving him as one who both talks the talk, but also walks the walk when it truly matters.
Finally, for Kofi Kingston, it was the shot at immortality he may never have again. Time after time in his career, when given a world title opportunity, Kingston has come up just short. In recent years, as a part of The New Day, while chasing Tag Team Championships, even lower-tier singles championships have slipped through Kingston’s grasps, seemingly out of reach for good. Yet, he has both the fire and talent to beat the best — as he showed on the SmackDown before the Chamber, beating three superstars in a row (Hardy, Bryan and Joe) in a Gauntlet Match before losing to Styles. Kingston is also reaching the end of his career, with nearly 15 years in the business, and never having attained a world championship. Even with this spot, it took nearly a miracle — the pleading of his New Day brothers Big E and Xavier Woods, and an injury to Mustafa Ali — to get him in the match. If he won the title, it would be the ultimate capstone to an illustrious career. But if not, Kingston would go down in history as the ultimate “what if”, the one who came up just short every time.
In the end, after countless moments that kept fans on the edge of their seats, the endings to the match were mixed. For the Women’s Elimination Chamber match, it was a story of success and happiness, as Bayley and Sasha Banks managed to walk the inaugural WWE Women’s Tag Team Champions. After starting the match first, the duo managed to survive all five other teams, including a grueling stretch where Tamina and Nia Jax dominated the action. After thirty-three minutes, Banks forced Sonya Deville to tap out to her signature submission, the Banks Statement, to crown the best friends as tag team champions. For the Men’s Chamber match, it was a story of “almost” for Kofi Kingston. After twenty-four minutes of heated action, Kofi managed to eliminate Randy Orton with his finishing move, bringing it down to Kingston and Bryan for the title. After flooring Bryan, he climbed atop one of the pods, poised to capture the elusive title. But as Kingston went for a splash from the pod, Bryan moved out of the way, before hitting Kingston with his signature running knee to retain the title. Despite his best efforts, Kingston was left in second place once again. But with the tremendous crowd support behind him, and the incredible run he’s been on there’s a potential chance that Kofi may get a rematch for the championship at WrestleMania.
As we get closer and closer to WrestleMania, the action and stakes will only keep rising, though it seems hard to top the Elimination Chamber’s action. Regardless of who you’re cheering for to win it all, after the Chamber, the words of one announcer encapsulate what’s ahead perfectly — we’re on the Road to WrestleMania, buckle your seatbelts.