Friday, February 17, 2012

WWE Elimination Chamber 2012 PPV Preview

(For those enjoying our WWE PPV Preview posts, check out our Wrestlemania XXVIII preview post RIGHT HERE)

Unless you're invested (financially or emotionally) in the teams remaining, the two weeks leading up to the Super Bowl is awful. It's just this long, droning saga, wracked with reporters and writers focusing on the same 4 story lines over and over again, even though none of those news items would be worthy of more than 20 minutes of coverage any other time of the year. Whatever little plot strings and morsels of interest there are in any little facet hanging from the game itself will get beaten to death, over and over again like a you shooting a defeated enemy in Goldeneye. It's just insulting. This is supposed to be biggest sporting (actually, television) event of the entire year. Why is it that the just two weeks of build can't be compelling? Don't we deserve better than this?

Well you know what, America? You do. That's right. You deserve the best build and climax possible. You're worth it. You deserve the Road to Wrestlemania.

MAMBINites. Lend me your eyes. Though the seeds were sown months ago, the final pay-per-view stop on the long and winding trip to Wrestlemania will be this Sunday night in The Good Land, Wisconsin, at the Elimination Chamber Pay-Per-View. What happens this Sunday will directly set up Wrestlemania 28, the biggest pro wrestling event of the entire year. It's like the Super Bowl for us wrestling fans, with the only difference being my massive erection from happiness that I don't get while watching the big game in January.

For those of you not in the know (nerds!), the Elimination Chamber was the WWE's answer to an old WCW construct called "War Games", which dominated the professional wrestling scene in the 80s and 90s. In it, two teams of four men would face off inside of a steel cage that would enclose the entire ring. The first team to score a pinfall or submission would win the match, in which the victorious team would receive nothing more than the rush of triumph.

As the wrestling audience grew more "sophisticated", they ironically craved more and more for the brutality of matches to increase and for the danger to become much more real. Even as the WWF gave the mob the Hell in a Cell match, which has shortened the careers of a score of 90's WWF stars, they still thirsted for the type of contest similar to War Games, but even more complex in its savagery. Enter, the Elimination Chamber.

Measuring in at 16 feet tall and over 2 tons, the ominous (perhaps more for the material it's composed of - steel - and its distinctive black paint job than anything else; truth be told, it resembles a gigantic bird cage) structure is wrapped in steel chains and grating. In each corner, stands 4 pods made of "indestructible bullet-proof glass" - why it was necessary to have bullet-proof glass in a hand to hand combat sport was never explained - in which 4 of the 6 contestants will stand, waiting to be released into the match.

The rules for the match are simple. It begins with two men fighting in the ring, with the other 4 combatants waiting in their aforementioned pods, protected from any stray ammunition that may make its way into a public arena. Every five minutes, another participant will be released into the match randomly, until all men are "in" the match. Each man must be pinned or made to submit until there is only one wrestler left standing. In this case, the victor will be the WWE or World Heavyweight champion.

Elimination Chamber Match for the WWE Championship: CM Punk (C) vs. Kofi Kingston vs. Dolph Ziggler vs. R-Truth vs. The Miz vs. Chris Jericho

Punk is like the Derrick Rose of the WWE now. One of, if not the most popular and well-rounded performers in the company, who is the reigning champ and arguably the MVP of Raw for the past year or so. There's no event you could have, whether it be a pay-per-view, press conference or promotional poster, without his face at the forefront. He is one of the hottest properties going, and someone you absolutely can't have the company disassociated with.

This match is a stunning example of where the company has gone in recent years. Aside from old professional hand Chris Jericho and golden boy CM Punk, this is a main event filled with up-and-comers who don't necessarily fit the classic WWE mold - undersized and with very particular idiosyncrasies. But what's exemplary of where the WWE is, is that none of these guys are stars yet. As Triple H mentioned this past Monday on Raw, the heyday of his generation has passed. Shawn Michaels, Stone Cold Steve Austin, The Undertaker, Mick Foley and The Rock have all retired from regular in-ring competition. As these household names have left the squared circle, WWE has struggled to make new stars, outside of the 80s prototype main eventers in John Cena and Randy Orton. Thus, what you have left with is a handful of so-called "top guys" who seem to always be consistently on the cusp of breaking to the outer crust, and yet, never do.

That all being said, the winner of this match will, most likely, be one half of the main event at Wrestlemania. From my projections, I see that being between the two men who are in one of the most gripping and burgeoning feuds on Raw, Chris Jericho and the incumbent champion CM Punk.

My logic? For all the reasons I mentioned, you can't NOT have Punk in the main event right now. Excluding him from it just for the sake of surprising the audience or defying expectations is throwing away free money. Vince McMahon, the supreme architect of what you know today as professional wrestling, is not a man who usually turns down that type of opportunity.

Punk is the most popular guy in the company, moreseo than John Cena, Orton or even the immortal (though absent to injury for the past year) Undertaker. His anti-authority bravado and seemingly blue collar work ethic and all handled with such completely believable conviction in his actions that cannot be replicated if not felt with genuine emotion. Once Dwayne Johnson said that the character of the Rock he plays on television is a portion of his personality, turned up 10 notches. The reason why we love CM Punk is that nothing feels contrived. It feels that this person, who is turned up 10 notches, is the real Phil Brooks, just going by a different name. Is this the new prototype for the 21st century WWE? I'm not sure of that , but I am damn sure that he is your main event at Wrestlemania, whether he has the title or not. He'll be fighting Chris Jericho. Anything less is throwing away free money.

Winner: CM Punk

Elimination Chamber Match for the World Heavyweight Championship: Daniel Bryan (c) vs. Wade Barret vs. Cody Rhodes vs. Big Show vs. The Great Khali vs. Santino Marella

(note: Randy Orton is a late scratch, due to a concussion he suffered on Tuesday. So we got Santino Marella)

Vince McMahon is LeBron James. They blame him for everything.

Over the past 30 years, the majority of WWE main eventers have been these gigantic caricatures of human beings; hulking ogres and real-life supermen who served as something as a modern day freak show tied with the type of predictable dramatic arc that boxing could never replicate. Between Andre the Giant, Hulk Hogan, the Ultimate Warrior, Big Boss Man and Randy Savage, he achieved all those goals. But sadly, these men felt, perhaps by the pressure of Vince, the adoring public and the need to keep their jobs, that steroids and pain-killers were the only way to become the legends that they were written out to be.

The truth is that steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs existed in professional wrestling before Vince, and will remain there long after he's gone. A lot of these men died because yes, the WWE did inadvertently (or perhaps very verbally) pressure them into steroids and drugs. They had to stay these larger-than-life, literally, giants because that's who Vince pushed. Those were the men whose backs the company was built on.

If you look at Smackdown World Champion Daniel Bryan, who's listed at a very generous 5'10", and his Monday Night Raw counterpart CM Punk, you can't say that Vince's modern-day freak show is still running in the same way that it was in 1987. Bryan, as I noted in an earlier WWE for a NBA fan post comparison, is a blue-collar wrestler, whose roots are very much embedded in rural, wood-cutting America. He looks like a guy that you could live next door to, someone you might have gone to high school with or see at your local gym. He looks like a normal guy. And yet, normal usually doesn't cut it in the WWE.

But Bryan has taken his look and his skills that he's honed in arenas all around the world for over a decade, and has implemented them to perfection in his short run as World Heavyweight Champion. He's turned his size into a weapon to get the crowd to absolutely hate him, instead of identifying with him, and because of his pedestrian looks, responding to him tepidly. He's somehow turned what should be a very noble and courageous struggle to get to the top despite the Darwinian odds being against him into qualities that the audience hates. He uses his journey as a way to hang it over the crowd's head, suggesting (rather than overtly declaring) that he's better than everyone else for having risen from the primordial ooze of normalcy. Daniel makes it a point to say that he'll do anything to keep his title, and while that's usually a righteous endeavor, carries it out in a way that's completely contrary. Bryan has taken an extraordinary skill set in the frame and facade of an everyday man, and made himself extraordinary. He is the best part of Smackdown, every single week.

That being said, the disparity between him and the other men in this match are pretty vast. Outside of Big Show (an older, steady, but unexciting hand) and the rapidly ascending Cody Rhodes, the match is filled with late game substitutes and perhaps a "draft bust" type of wrestler in Wade Barrett.

Seeing as he's the hottest heel wrestler on Smackdown, and smiling good guy Sheamus, who by virtue of winning the Royal Rumble last month will get a title shot at Wrestlemania, stands waiting for him, I have to pick Bryan to win this match. Both champions retain.

Winner: Daniel Bryan

Kane vs. John an Ambulance Match

The premise of this match is painfully simple, which makes it all the more stupid. The goal of this match is to incapacitate your opponent to the point where he's injured enough to hoisted into the back of an ambulance, which will be parked at the top of the entrance ramp. In the arena. A real ambulance. That's it.

John Cena, for better or for worse, is the face of the company. CM Punk might be the most popular, but John Cena is the most well known, the king of merchandise sales and the man you can always count on to be main eventing the biggest shows of the year. For reasons that go far beyond the scope of this humble preview post, John Cena gets booed in every single arena he's in. He plays the classic "good guy", and yet, people hate him. On Monday at Raw, there was actually a "We All Hate You" chant. Seriously.

Lately, Cena has been embroiled in a feud with Kane who has targeted Cena physically and "emotionally", and has week-in and week-out encouraged Cena to "embrace the hate" and turn on the legions of WWE fans who regularly boo him. And week-in and week-out, Cena has steadfastly refused, saying that he "rises above hate" (pointing to his shirt that shockingly says "Rise Above Hate" - available at now!) and won't judge people for booing him. And this happens week-in. And week-out. For two months now.

Every week is the same. The same fighting, the same promo from Kane, the same promo from John Cena, the same everything. And I'm tired of it.

Quite obviously this feud is a simple prelude to John Cena's year-long established match with Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson at next month's Wrestlemania 28. They need Cena to tread water for a little while in a feud somewhat tangential to his upcoming showdown with the former WWE superstar. Sadly, the best they could do is the worst they could do. I'm hoping this program ends Sunday, and ends fast. I'm picking John Cena to win, but only because it involves the shortest amount of discussion.

Winner: John Cena

There's also a women's championship match, but I don't care about that. Watching women wrestle on a professional wrestling program is like taking a time out in the middle of the second quarter of a basketball game and having a JV high school mini-game. It's insulting to me as a wrestling fan, but more importantly, as a misogynist.

(Seeing as the WWE has only listed 4 matches for a 3 hour show, I'm sure some other last minute contests will be added during the weekend)

I'm excited for the PPV on Sunday, not just because of the gimmick matches that could potentially disguise some of the weakness of its competitors (especially on the Smackdown side), but also because it'll set the table for the biggest and best event of the year in Wrestlemania.

8 years ago, two men went in to Wrestlemania 20 and emerged as champions. Those two men were Chris Benoit and Eddie Guerrero. For years, they were maligned for being "too small" and for constantly refusing to fit into Vince McMahon's and professional wrestling's call to be another 6'5" Goliath with little actually in-ring ability. Benoit and Guerrero came out of Wrestlemania 20 both champions, despite the ceiling set for them years beforehand. At the time, I remember feeling the same way that I do about Daniel Bryan and CM Punk. I remember thinking that the tide had changed for the better, and the top of the WWE card would now be dominated by guys who felt more organic and were infinitely more skilled than the plastic, roided-up behemoths whose ability never matched their fantastic looks. I thought a sea change was occurring in the business. The time for Hogan and Triple H and other of their ilk was nearing its end. Yet, years later, both men died from physical and mental maladies associated with the exact opposite reasons why I admired them so much.

I'm not saying that either Punk or Bryan are going anywhere, anytime soon, nor am I suggesting that they could possibly find the same monstrous end that Benoit found. However, I am saying that maybe we're headed to the same place I thought we were headed when Benoit and Guerrero stood in the ring, confetti falling from the ceiling. Grantland's the Masked Man likes to say we're in the Reality Era in wrestling, where the changing tides of technology and culture so masterfully blurs the lines between what is real and what someone wants to present on screen. Maybe we're in a place where the audience is going to connect more with the every man than they will for the colorful, larger-than-life figures like John Cena and Sheamus. We'll see on Sunday.

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