Thursday, January 26, 2023

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Elimination Chamber in Review: The Path of Least Resistance

Sometimes, a surprise outcome is a good thing in wrestling. By defying expectations, it can add excitement to a story, making it feel like anything can happen. Other times, an outcome is unexpected because it’s completely out of harmony with the larger picture. In those instances, the surprise falls flat, making it feel like the writers and the viewers are watching totally different stories.

Needless to say, Elimination Chamber brought out feelings of the latter in me. Given the half-assed nature of everything Diva-related on the main roster, I wasn’t expecting Nikki Bella‘s Triple Threat title defense against Naomi and Paige to be a lengthy, outstanding match a la Becky Lynch and Sasha Banks‘s match at TakeOver (yes, I’m pulling the NXT card again – deal with it). I was hoping, though, (silly me!) that its outcome would turn the page and bring some freshness to the title picture with a new champion.

We didn’t get that. Instead, we got an outcome that didn’t do anything to push the story forward or follow up on the Naomi/Paige tension that’s been the sole focus of this feud. All that’s left, then, is to judge the match on its own merits. To do that, we need to watch it:

Brie and Tamina Snuka have been banned from ringside, which would lead one to believe that there might be shenanigans afoot. Don’t get your hopes up!

Nikki makes her entrance first, followed by Naomi and Paige. The bell sounds, and the Divas circle each other, Naomi making the first move. She goes to kick Nikki, who catches her foot and tosses it to Paige. This allows Nikki to take out Naomi with a forearm.

As Naomi rolls out of the picture, Paige takes down Nikki, making it clear that she’s not here to make friends not interested in any alliances. Paige sends Nikki into the ropes. The champ hangs on to them, kicking Paige away before being swept off her feet by Naomi and dragged out of the ring. Naomi tosses Nikki into the announce table and celebrates, allowing Paige to reach out of the ring and grab her by the hair. Paige drags Naomi up to the ring apron, but any plans she has are halted by kick to the side of the head.

Naomi climbs to the top rope and goes sailing off of it with a crossbody, but gets nothing but mat when Paige jumps out of the way. Paige crawls over for a pin attempt, but Naomi kicks out after the one-count. Paige looks to wear Naomi down with a string of offense, hitting clotheslines and a dropkick. She then nails twin kicks on Naomi and Nikki, disposing of the champ just as she attempts to reenter the fray.

Paige ducks Naomi’s ensuing attack, but her own return kick is avoided, Naomi sliding under it. When she then tries to take Paige down with a crossbody, she’s caught and tossed back with a fallaway slam. Paige goes for another pin, earning a two-count this time.

Nikki then finally gets back into the ring, nailing Paige with a knee to the face. She goes for the cover, but Paige kicks out. Nikki then turns her attentions to Naomi, who’s propped up in the corner. She sends Paige into her and hits both with a clothesline, pulling Paige back to the center of the ring for an Alambama Slam exclamation point.

Before she can capitalize on this, though, Nikki is taken down by Naomi, who rolls her up for a surprise pin attempt. Nikki manages to kick out, but is beaten down by Naomi and tossed into the corner. Naomi then dashes over to Paige for another pin attempt. Paige kicks out as well.

When she tries to continue her attack on Nikki, Naomi’s met with an elbow to the face. Nikki hops up on the second rope to hit her elevated enziguri, but she gets nothing but air, Naomi ducking it and Paige being just out of reach. That’s a shame… That could’ve been a cool spot.

Paige, looking to capitalize on Nikki’s bruised ego tumble, goes for the pin. Naomi breaks it up and gets rid of Nikki, tossing her into the corner and out of the ring. Focusing again on Paige, Naomi hits her with a suplex and leg drop. She pulls Paige to her feet, takes her to the corner and lifts her to the top rope, following and prepping for a high risk maneuver. Before she can perform it, though, Nikki pops back up, finding herself in the perfect position for a Tower of Doom! The tower meets its doom, and all the Divas are down.

Nikki, having performed the move, is first to act, covering Naomi for the pin. Naomi kicks out, prompting Nikki to try a pin on Paige. Paige kicks out as well. Nikki pulls Paige to her feet and sets her up for the Rack Attack, but Naomi has other ideas, taking the both of them out with a well-placed Rear View! She covers Nikki, but Paige has enough of her bearings to immediately break up the pin. She shoos Naomi out of the ring with a kick.

Paige then goes for the PTO, but Naomi’s right back in the mix, kicking Paige in the head to break the hold before Nikki can tap out. Naomi takes her time going for the pin, but when she does, she only gets a two-count. Once on her feet, Paige reverses Naomi’s whip into the corner, but Naomi catches herself, hopping up onto the second rope. Paige immediately attacks her from behind, propping her up on her shoulders.

Naomi takes full advantage of this electric chair positioning, whipping backwards and taking Paige out with a sick-looking reverse Frankensteiner. Paige manages to kick out of Naomi’s follow-up pin, but is too out of it to continue and simply rolls out of the ring. This leaves Nikki with Naomi.

Nikki ducks Naomi’s kick and immediately grabs hold of her and lifts her into Rack Attack position. Nikki hits the finisher, covering Naomi for the pin and the win. Nikki is still your Divas Champion!

Post-match, Brie comes to the ring to join in on her sister’s celebration. The situation smacks of a heel turn setup, but nope: Brie’s just there to hug Nikki. Aw. Maybe the Authority (who ordered Brie and Tamina’s banishment) can twist this into a cause for a rematch. Brie did violate her ringside banishment, even if it was after the match. I could see that being loopholed by Stephanie McMahon & Co.

Over in Manager Land, Natalya accompanied Tyson Kidd and Cesaro to the ring for their losing effort in the first-ever WWE Tag Team Title Elimination Chamber match:

Lana, due to Rusev‘s unexpected real life foot injury, didn’t have much of a follow-up to her story. She participated in a short Q&A on the Kickoff, revealing little information about Rusev’s injury and playing coy about Dolph Ziggler:

She did run into Dolph before his Intercontinental Title Eliminaton Chamber match, though, assuring him that her aim with him is not to make Rusev jealous:

Dolph expresses his hope that after he wins the title tonight, maybe they can have a “thing”.

Spoiler alert: Dolph loses the match. Hey, maybe Lana can manage Ryback now. He’s got the Daniel Bryan seal of approval!

Oh, and welcome back Lilian Garcia! It’s lovely to hear you again.

Thoughts: Even with the Triple Threat stipulation (maybe even because of the stipulation), this match felt incredibly cookie cutter. We had the Tower of Doom, which has become a hallmark of Divas Triple Threat matches (and a sign that the bookers lack creativity) and a pace that felt more spotty than exciting. The botches weren’t match-ruining (in my view), but lent to an overall feeling of disarray and franticness. The pace of the match probably played a big part in the lack of confidence that permeated the whole thing. Divas matches often feel like the girls were shoved out there and told to “get this over with”, but it felt even more palpable tonight. It just didn’t feel like this match mattered.

As for the finish: I don’t get why, if the plan all along was for Nikki to win, why they virtually sidelined her for almost the entirety of the buildup. She felt like the third wheel, only present because she held the title. It makes no sense, story-wise, to have her win here if the WWE is more interested in exploring Naomi’s heel turn and Paige’s quest for vengeance, which the last two weeks seemed to indicate. Neither of those points, by the way, were even touched upon here.

Really, what’s to gain from Nikki winning when we’ve been instructed (by the booking) to care about Naomi vs. Paige? What excitement is there to be had? Unless this was a swerve for the sake of pulling a swerve (which, given how little the WWE invests in the main roster Divas, I seriously doubt), this is just another case of half-assed booking devoid of any foresight. There was no reason for fans to care about Nikki retaining because they haven’t been given a reason to care about her since Paige’s return.

Don’t get me wrong; I really like Nikki. I’m just tired of this title reign. It’s long since run out of steam, and the fact that she’s still holding the title tells me that the WWE has no idea what to do with the belt. If they truly had a long game plan for Nikki as Divas Champion, this win wouldn’t have felt so flat and underwhelming. She would be the center of this feud, not the third wheel.

All I can hope for is that Naomi won’t be written out after this. I’m not really jazzed about the idea of this turning into some Nikki/Paige babyface-versus-babyface feud. It’s far beyond obvious that Naomi deserves a run with the belt, even if it’s for a short period. To deny her of that despite the staleness of the current division is ridiculous. What do they have to lose? At the very least, it would give the WWE a chance to pat themselves on the back for crowning the second-ever African American Divas Champion (I didn’t forget about you, Alicia Fox). If Naomi isn’t ready for prime time, as some may say, why has she been chasing the title for the past month-plus? The WWE is willing to put her in the spotlight, but for some reason they’ve been reluctant to let her actually lead the story, even with her revamped character. Christ, just do it already!

Granted, we are two weeks away from yet another Pay-Per-View, and maybe that’s the problem. The WWE is so incapable of booking Diva feuds that the mere thought of them writing fast enough for a two week turnaround is a joke. Likely, we’ll see some form of rematch at Money in the Bank. Maybe we’ll see a title change then. Honestly, at this point, I’ll take any title change. Anything to get the division out of this holding pattern.

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