Posted February 12th, 2017 by 1Wrestling News Team

By Don Murphy

We’re officially on the road to WrestleMania, one of the best times of the year for the wrestling fan universe. Years ago, the road was fairly straight, as the winner of the annual Royal Rumble would main event WrestleMania against the World Champion. Years later, the road has added some more curves, with several major events we’ll need to get through before we get to the big one in Orlando on April 2nd. The first curve in the road takes place Sunday night in Phoenix, Arizona, as the WWE’s Smackdown brand presents the Elimination Chamber. For full disclosure, my Royal Rumble predictions were way off, so I am hoping for a big rebound with this show. And, as a single card, I think the show has been built nicely and I’ve really liked the story arcs they’ve been telling each week. However, from what I’ve heard and from the way things are playing out, I’ll be interested to see the culmination of some of these stories at WrestleMania, but that’s a discussion for another column. Of course, the big attraction on the show is the Elimination Chamber match itself. On the one hand, I’m not a fan of the WWE title being defended here, as, from an old-school mindset, it takes away from the intrigue of the Royal Rumble. Back in those days, your Mania main event was set at that event, giving creative about two months to build the story. On the other hand, adding the Chamber to the WrestleMania build allows creative the opportunity to put several developing stars in a main event match and gives the overall show a level of interest it might not have, if presented another time of the year. In addition to the main event title match, the show features two Championship matches, with three women’s matches (which, I think, may be a record). Let’s run down the card….

Main Event: The Elimination Chamber for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship: John Cena defends the title against The Miz, Dean Ambrose, AJ Styles, Bray Wyatt and Baron Corbin

Analysis: Unlike Hell in a Cell, the WWE has done a good job using this type of match sparingly, with the last one taking place in 2015. And, as you know, I’m not usually a fan of multi-person title matches, but in this case, there are enough stories being told, where it makes sense and adds to the intrigue of the match. Later, you’ll hear about a scenario where it has the opposite effect. As for the entrants, it’s looking like John Cena’s record-tying sixteenth title reign will likely be a short one. The WWE gave away the potential Mania main event last week on Smackdown, when Cena faced Rumble winner, Randy Orton. So, all signs point to Cena dropping the title here. And, with Orton in the number-one contender’s seat, it’s logical that Wyatt wins the title here to further add to the “family” rift at Mania. Of course, they could always factor in AJ Styles to the title mix, as technically, he hasn’t received his rematch, since dropping the title at the Rumble. But, I think they’ll save that story for after WrestleMania. I’m also looking for a big performance from Baron Corbin. Smackdown lacks roster depth and if Corbin can evolve into a main event level performer, there are a lot of interesting scenarios he can fit into. We can also expect Dean Ambrose and the Miz to continue their feud, but we’ll need to see what paths they go down as we move toward Mania.

Murphy Predicts: Bray Wyatt wins the WWE World Heavyweight Championship

WWE Smackdown Tag Team Championship Match: American Alpha defend the WWE Smackdown Tag Team Championship against Heath Slater/Rhyno, The Usos, The Vaudevillans, Breezango and The Ascension in a Tag Team Turmoil Match

Analysis: We go from a multi-man title match that makes sense, to one that was poorly thrown together. Don’t get me wrong. The in-ring product will be fine, but there is no sense of significance to the Smackdown tag team division. Think about all the wrestlers in this match that excelled in NXT: American Alpha, The Vaudevillans, Breezango and The Ascension. They all have their strengths and weaknesses, but they were positioned to appear important. In this case, there’s no been no storyline since Alpha won the titles and in fact, we really don’t have a sense of what their characters are supposed to be. I’m looking forward to some good action here, but really wish they would hit the reset button on the division and give us a reason to care about the titles.

Murphy Predicts: American Alpha retain the WWE Smackdown Tag Team Championship

WWE Smackdown Women’s Championship Match: Alexa Bliss defends the WWE Smackdown Women’s Championship against Naomi

Analysis: I continue to enjoy Bliss’ work and feel that we haven’t even scratched the surface on her potential. Slotting Naomi in as the number-one contender makes sense, in order to give us a break from Bliss-Becky Lynch. I do feel they could go back to that feud at some point, but it was smart to move on for now. Naomi is a decent babyface, but I don’t see any scenario where Bliss drops the title here, especially since we’ve gotten the traditional formula where the champion loses in non-title matches, prior to the title being on the line. There may be some interference from Mickie James here, but frankly, I’d like to see them give Bliss some equity through some clean wins, once in a while.

Murphy Predicts: Alexa Bliss retains the WWE Smackdown Women’s Championship

Singles Match: Becky Lynch meets Mickie James

Analysis: James’ return has fallen a bit flat, but this should be a solid match. Both are good in-ring performers, but I’d like to see them tell the story a little bit more about the legend who’s desperate to hold onto her spot against an upstart, trying to revolutionize the women’s division. They started to go down that path and I liked what I saw. Perhaps moving Mickie away from Alexa Bliss might be what’s need to add some more dimensions to this program.

Murphy Predicts: Mickie James defeats Becky Lynch

Singles Match: Nikki Bella meets Natalya

Analysis: I like what these two have brought to the table to build to this match. Natalya seems to be more in her comfort zone as the obnoxious heel. Nikki is definitely the better half of the Bellas, from a performance standpoint, but the promos have relied a bit much on Total Divas references for me to become fully invested in the program. It’s hard to see Nikki as the vulnerable babyface, when we’re constantly reminded of her link to John Cena. And, from what I’m hearing, it sounds like that association will have an even grander presence in the months to come.

Murphy Predicts: Nikki Bella defeats Natalya

Two-on-One Handicap Match: Apollo Crews and Kalisto meet Dolph Ziggler

Analysis: It’s rare that a handicap match is booked, where the babyfaces have the advantage. So, I anticipate someone coming out to help Ziggler win. This person will either serve as Ziggler’s new tag team partner, or perhaps as his muscle at ringside. There are several Smackdown wrestlers who would fit into this role nicely. Whatever they decide, it’s time to hit the reset button on all three. Turning Ziggler heel was a step in the right direction, but he needs a new look. For Kalisto, a move to 205 Live would be recommended. And for Crews – I’m honestly at a loss, but what they’re doing with him now isn’t working.

Murphy Predicts: Dolph Ziggler defeats Kalisto and Apollo Crews

Singles Match: Randy Orton meets Luke Harper

Analysis: I’m trying to think of the last time we saw the Royal Rumble winner get booked in a throwaway match on the next show. It makes sense to save him for WrestleMania to avoid injury. The bigger issue is – what happens to Luke Harper after this program has run its course? My hope is that he reunites with Erick Rowan to give the tag team division some much needed depth.

Murphy Predicts: Randy Orton defeats Luke Harper

Pre-Show/Singles Match: Mojo Rawley meets Curt Hawkins

Analysis: There’s really not much to say here, as they haven’t done much with either. While this will help get the crowd warmed up for the main show, Hawkins’ re-debut has been a complete flop. For Rawley, he might fit well as Dolph Ziggler’s muscle, if they were thinking about re-packaging him as a heel. Rawley’s passion is there – he just hasn’t been able to work the babyface style effectively.

Murphy Predicts: Mojo Rawley defeats Curt Hawkins
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