SmackDown’s last PPV before WrestleMania saw the return of a slightly-different Elimination Chamber.

Last seen in May 2015 as a Network special, this year’s Elimination Chamber was a “proper” pay-per-view, featuring an old-school ring, without any fancy LED boards or corner posts. I’m guessing the new chamber was designed before those were a thing…

Curt Hawkins vs. Mojo Rawley
Our sole pre-show match saw Curt’s first TV appearance (not including battle royals) since the week before Christmas. Where he was beaten. By Mojo.

Hawkins spent time escaping Mojo at the bell, constantly retreating to the ropes, before sneaking in a cheap shot. That didn’t go well as Hawkins took a clothesline and a low block before Hawkins kicked Rawley back to the outside. They tried the “throw into the security barrier” spot, but in the end Curt had to settle for the less-satisfying “throw into the apron” as some cameramen blocked the security wall.

Mojo beat the ten count back into the ring… and we get a commercial break. A necessary evil, but still maddening when you’re watching on the network.

We return as Hawkins takes out Rawley’s knee again whilst sliding out of the ring. Back inside, Hawkins wears down Mojo with a rear chinlock, but Mojo makes a comeback, no-selling forearms before he takes down Hawkins with shoulder tackles and a clothesline. A fireman’s carry pancake gets Mojo a near-fall, but Curt hits back with a punch to the throat and a Downward Spiral for another near-fall.

From the kickout, Rawley makes another comeback with a running punch into the corner, before a spinning powerslam gets him the win. Decent pre-show fodder; perhaps not the “break-out performance” Mojo needed, but definitely not his worst. **¼

Becky Lynch vs. Mickie James
This was coming off of Mickie James being unmasked as “La Luchadora” in the cage match that saw Alexa Bliss retain the women’s title a few weeks back.

Lots of grappling from the tie-up to start us off, rolling to the outside as they threw each other into the security wall and the apron before finally releasing. James rushes to the ropes after Becky grabbed an armbar, before being sent to the outside in pursuit of an armbar of her own. A leaping side-kick – a la RVD – knocks James off the apron, as Lynch flew to the outside with a forearm.

James lands a snap single-arm DDT as Lynch is coming back into the ring, getting a couple of near-falls out of that. Lynch fires back with knees and uppercuts, before a kick to the shoulder saw James continue her attack on the former champion’s arm. Eventually Lynch made a comeback with clotheslines and a leg lariat after winning a battle of forearms, before an Bexploder getting a two-count, only to miss a charge into the corner as James comes back with a flapjack.

A seated senton off the top rope almost wins it for Mickie, only for Lynch to come back with a kick out of the corner, then a missile dropkick. Nevermind, the Mick Kick takes down Becky, who falls under the bottom rope so there’s no count… so Mickie drags her into the rind for a near-fall. Another comeback sees Lynch back body drop her way free before switching a counter from the Dis-Arm-Her into a jack-knife pin, and that’s the win! Pretty good stuff here, especially if you fell for David Otunga’s lies… ***

David Otunga was insufferable in this match, hammering home “Mickie James hasn’t been competing every night for seven years”. I get it, she’s been away, but please don’t insult the fans’ intelligence by suggesting she’s not been wrestling – something that JBL was at pains to correct.

They had a show-long storyline with James Ellsworth and his “boo” Carmella in a Skybox. So Ellsworth has gone from underdog to henpecked… alrighty then.

Apollo Crews & Kalisto vs. Dolph Ziggler
Dolph Ziggler jumped Kalisto in the entrance ramp, throwing him into the video wall before he’d even gotten to past the stage. Ziggler then ran through the crowd, into the ring, as this started as a regular match, with Crews whaling on Ziggler from the off.

Ziggler turns things around, landing a neckbreaker for a two-count, before landing a back elbow after Crews tried to snatch a win with a roll-up. Dolph replies with a single-leg takedown for a one-count, before sinking in a chin-lock, keeping Crews on the mat. Apollo fights to his feet, then punches free, before he countered another neckbreaker with a shot to the midsection.

Eh, nevermind, Dolph gets the neckbreaker anyway, and that was the cue for the wounded Kalisto to march down, complete with the customary referee begging him to reconsider.

Crews hits an enziguiri as Kalisto crawled into the corner, then made the tag in as his beating from earlier suddenly disappeared. Kicks and a handspring roundhouse kick drop Ziggler, before a blind tag is made to Crews… who hits his big sit-out powerbomb for the win. Eh, that was a match, I guess. It was fine, but not much more. **

After the match, Ziggler got his heat back by tripping Kalisto on the apron, before playing a game of chase with Crews, who ran into the ring for another beatdown. Dolph’s got a chair, and we all know what that means: Brian Pillman Memorial Spot! Just by stamping on a chair, rather than jumping off the turnbuckles… the crowd chanted “one more time”, so Dolph delivered. This Phoenix crowd aren’t very sympathetic, are they?

Tag Team Turmoil for WWE SmackDown Tag Team Championship: Heath Slater & Rhyno vs. Breezango (Fandango & Tyler Breeze) vs. Vaudevillains (Simon Gotch & Aiden English) vs. The Usos (Jimmy Uso & Jey Uso) vs. American Alpha (Chad Gable & Jason Jordan) (c) vs. The Ascension (Konnor & Viktor)
So, we’re starting with two teams, and it’s winner-stays-on. Hey, Breezango are still alive!

Basic stuff at the start as Slater drops Fandango with a hiptoss, then an atomic drop, before dishing out the same to Tyler Breeze. Rhyno comes in to ECW chants, in 2017, decking Breeze with a shoulder tackle and a short-arm clothesline.

A blind tag brings in Fandango, who trips Slater before some ground and pound keeps the former tag champion down. Breezango pepper Slater with a pair of simultaneous kicks as he was in the ropes, scoring a near-fall from that, before Fandango issues Slater a bunch of tickets from the fashion police.

Slater didn’t take kindly to that, scoring near-falls from a sunset flip and a leg lariat, before tagging out to Rhyno… who capitalises on the blind tag by pinning Fandango with the Gore. Next out: the Vaudevillains! They throw Rhyno into the crowd barriers, before Slater hits a crossbody off the top rope.

The Vaudevillains take over by throwing Slater across the top turnbuckles as he takes some kicks, ending with a spinning back kick from Gotch, who succeeds with a Finlay roll on Slater, before getting Gore’d by Rhyno. English misses a senton bomb and falls into an implant DDT, and that’s another elimination! Out next are the Usos, or the U505, if you go by baseball caps…

Slater goes after Jimmy Uso, who takes over with a side kick and some punches in the ropes, but a flying forearm knocks down Jimmy. Rhyno comes in for more of the same, but he’s quickly cornered as Jey tags in for a forearm smash for a near-fall. Slater comes in again with a flying chop, before knocking Jimmy off the apron. Jey misses a splash into the corner, but recovers to land a pop-up Samoan drop for a near-fall.

Jey sends Rhyno to the outside, before another blind tag brings in Jimmy, who superkicks Slater out of an O’Connor roll, and that’s the elimination as the Usos next face the champions! The Usos meet Gable and Jordan in the aisle, but the champions land a pair of German suplexes in the ring as Jordan goes up top for a cross body on Jimmy for a near-fall.

The Usos work together to drop Gable with an uppercut as the Usos take the upper hand on the much smaller Gable. Jimmy’s legdrop gets a near-fall, as the Usos repeatedly prevent a tag out, landing a double clothesline with Jordan so close but so far away. Finally get gets it, as he clears house on Jey Uso with a dropkick, before Jimmy gets an overhead suplex. Jey takes an overheard belly to belly, before Gable tags back in for the Steiner Brothers bulldog… Jey rolls through, only to be rolled-up by Chad for the elimination.

The Usos double-team the champions after their elimination, throwing them into the ringpost, then the ring steps. A top rope splash from Jimmy squashes Jordan, and there’s one team left: the Ascension. LOL.

Rather than make a pin, Konnor picks up Jordan for the Fall of Man (Total Elimination), but Gable leaps in to break up the cover. He then gets thrown across the top rope as Jordan gets whipped into a shoulder charge for another near-fall. Jordan makes a comeback after Viktor misses a charge into the corner, hitting an overhead belly-to-belly, before he sidesteps a charge from Konnor, and makes the tag out. Gable gets yanked off the apron, but still rushes in to hit the Grand Amplitude on Viktor for the win. A fun turmoil match, with American Alpha having a nice final sprint after the Uso beatdown. ***¼

Nikki Bella vs. Natalya
A slap from Natalya gets us going after she mocks the “you can’t see me” taunt, and we actually have some wrestling as a cross armbreaker from Nikki forces Natalya to escape into some ground and pound.

Natalya scores some waistlock takedowns, but Nikki surprises her with a knee-bar, forcing Natalya to reach for the ropes before rolling to the outside. A clothesline off the apron knocks Natalya down, who then plays a bit of cat and mouse as she goes to shove Nikki into the ringpost.

Back inside, Natalya stomps on Bella in the corner before a rear chinlock keeps her at bay. Again, Natalya mocks the John Cena taunts, and that just gets Nikki an easy schoolboy for a near-fall, but Natalya just starts to tear away at Bella’s legs, tying her up in a leg spreader, before a punch from the ground up helps Nikki grab an STF for a brief moment.

The comeback continues as Bella picks up a near-fall, only to fall into a Michinoku driver as Natalya took over again. A forearm smash takes down Natalya for a near-fall, and the offence continued with a Rack Attack attempt, only for Natalya to elbow free and run into a spinebuster.

A springboard enziguiri out of the corner gets another two-count for Nikki, but she’s taken up for a superplex that leaves both women laying. Natalya gets back to her feet first for a Sharpshooter, eventually dragging Nikki back into the middle of the ring, before Nikki spins out into the STF. Natalya makes the ropes, then grabs onto them to coax Nikki after her, as the pair take almost a belly-to-belly off the mat to the floor, before they continue the fight on the floor… and that leads to a double count-out. The crowd aren’t exactly thrilled… this was pretty decent in parts, but at least the post-match stuff, including a spear in the aisle, got the crowd back into things. **¾

Randy Orton vs. Luke Harper
Harper stands up against Orton early on, with some shoulder blocks sending the Royal Rumble winner to the outside to regroup, only to find himself getting close to the announce table, courtesy of Harper.

Back inside, a dropkick knocks down Orton, but he makes a comeback, whipping Harper into the turnbuckles, before a back suplex bounces Harper off the English commentary table and onto the floor. Orton keeps up on Harper, sending him laying onto the apron before we get the WWE equivalent of a Rainmaker pose…

In the corner, Orton stomps on a grounded Harper, before he goes back to that chinlock in the middle of the ring. Harper elbows free and trades some uppercuts, before a slingshot senton into the ring rocks the Viper. As does a big boot.

Harper goes for a tope, but a right hand from Orton cuts it off briefly… Luke hits it eventually as the German announcers get taken out. The English announce table’s used again as Orton takes a back suplex onto it – and these things aren’t breaking tonight! Orton hits back with a scoop powerslam, before giving Harper a heck of a ride with a superplex!

The RKO is blocked, but Harper just takes a full nelson slam instead for a two-count, and it’s not long before Orton sets up for the RKO again… but Harper sees it coming and comes back with a superkick instead. Another superkick knocks Randy down for a two-count, as does a powerbomb, before they go back to the boo/yay uppercuts, which rudely ends when Orton blocks a discus lariat with an RKO for the win! A pretty good outing, although it did feel like it was at slow motion at parts. ***½

After a plug for the Network, there’s a backstage interview with Nikki Bella… she’s quickly jumped by Natalya who throws her around the backstage area, then into Maryse, who spills some make-up on her before referees break it up.

WWE SmackDown Women’s Championship: Naomi vs. Alexa Bliss (c)
Naomi starts by trying to roll-up Bliss for a quick win, before she takes her into the corners.

An attempted springboard into the ring is caught as Bliss pulls down Naomi, which led to some offence as she choked on Naomi in the corner. Some knees to the back of Naomi in the ropes get a near-fall, before Bliss turns an armdrag off the ropes into a bridging roll-up… then both women connect with kicks at the same time.

Bliss blocks a push-down stomp out of the corner, but has no answer for some kicks and a somersault clothesline. Naomi gets a near-fall out of a Blockbuster, before Bliss catches her with a kick from the ground up in the corner, only to run into the Rear View for a near-fall.

Bliss suckers Naomi into the ropes for a cheapshot as the looked to end things with a double knee drop, then a standing moonsault/kneedrop combo. That didn’t work, so Bliss goes up top, but she gets caught with an enziguiri as Bliss falls to the outside, but she recovers and returns for a DDT for another two-count.

After a two-footed Eat Defeat, Naomi goes for the split legged moonsault, but despite connecting with it, Bliss pops back up into a cradle with her feet on the bottom ropes. The referee catches her, so Bliss goes back up top for the Twisted Bliss… but Naomi gets her knees up. Another split legged moonsault blasts Bliss in the ribs as she rolled into position, and we have a new champion! Decent, but this felt like a throwback to a few years back where the crowds were silent for large parts. **¾

I now want Naomi’s belt to have glow-in-the-dark side plates…

Elimination Chamber for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship: Dean Ambrose vs. Baron Corbin vs. The Miz vs. Bray Wyatt vs. AJ Styles vs. John Cena (c)
The Elimination Chamber has been redesigned – it’s now squarer and fits easier in the traditional WWE ringside area – whilst the pods don’t feel as tall, and there’s also a different material in place of the old steel grating that “extended” the apron. Bet you it’ll not make this year’s new WWE video game though!

There’s also a big hole at the top that’ll surely be used one day for someone to climb out of, similar to that old TNA Steel Asylum cage that Homicide had issues climbing out of back in the day…

AJ Styles and John Cena started off, and quite literally, started where they left off at the Rumble, with Cena dumping AJ with a shoulder tackle, before Styles kicked away at Cena’s legs. A missed corner charge earns Cena a torture rack, eventually spinning out into a Blue Thunder Bomb for a near-fall. Cena pancakes AJ out of a Styles Clash, then runs back in with a Code Red for a two-count, before he tries – and fails – with the STF.

Styles replies with an ushigoroshi for a near-fall, but Cena goes through some of his Five Moves of Doom as the countdown ticks away to reveal our third entrant: Dean Ambrose! Ambrose goes straight into Cena with a clothesline, before throwing the champion into the chain wall. AJ joins him, but gets thrown into the cell wall a few times before Ambrose gives him the X-Plex (release suplex) onto the former steel grating.

Ambrose becomes the first man to jump on top of the pod, and he flies onto Cena with an elbow. Back in the ring, Cena pulls off a two-man German suplex to Styles and Ambrose, and we get the next countdown as number four in the match is Bray Wyatt. Bray marches in and decks Dean with a clothesline, before a leaping elbow knocks down Cena. Styles low-bridges Wyatt over the top rope, only to get thrown into the chamber wall. The former champion retaliates by trapping Wyatt across the turnbuckles, then dropping a leg as he was hung outside the ring, before he decides to climb the chamber. So does Cena… who punches Styles, before AJ returns the favour and sends Cena crashing to the covered steel grating.

In the middle of that, Ambrose joins then as they fight above the Miz’s pod, with Ambrose ramming AJ’s head into the plexiglass in the corner, before he tries to drop an elbow to Wyatt… who meets him with a right hand on the way down. Bray and Dean exchange shots on a “safer” top turnbuckle, but AJ returns and gets thrown with an overhead belly-to-belly superplex by Bray.

Our penultimate countdown is the signal for Baron Corbin to come out, and he makes a beeline for Ambrose, as those two trade blows. Ambrose gets ground against the chamber wall, before he runs into a Deep Six from Corbin, who then gets attacked from behind by Wyatt… who then gets shoved into the Miz’s pod as he went for the Sister Abigail. A version of the STO takes down Wyatt instead, as Corbin hits the End of Days on AJ… but before he can capitalise, Cena runs in with an STF.

Corbin counters that and hits the End of Days to Cena, but Dean Ambrose rushes in to cut-off Corbin’s momentum, as they go outside the ring and exchange shoves into the wall. Ambrose recovers to attempt the Dirty Deeds, before Corbin just shoves him into the chain-link wall once again… just in time to stare down The Miz as his pod opens.

Miz takes is time coming out, but that just gives Ambrose enough time to schoolboy Corbin for the elimination! Angered, Corbin lays into Ambrose, then throws him through the plastic glass in one of the pods, before he hits the End of Days … and that gives Miz the perfect chance to come into play as he scores the cheap pin to eliminate Ambrose.

The Miz goes to the mocking “yes” chants as he does the Daniel Bryan kicks to keep teasing that match we’re likely never going to see, before he takes down Wyatt with the Skull Crushing Finale on the outside. A cross body off the top’s caught and rolled through by Cena, who delivers an Attitude Adjustment, and the Miz is gone.

Almost immediately, Styles and Wyatt jump Cena, but that alliance quickly ends as Wyatt decks AJ before he misses a running senton. That’s the cue for Cena to come back with more of his Five Moves of Doom, finishing off with an AA to Wyatt, before Styles counters his into a Styles Clash for a near-fall. The Phenomenal Forearm is avoided by Cena, who lands that AA for another two-count on Styles, before he goes to climb the chamber walls again.

One fan audibly can be heard “go kill yourself, Cena”. Classy.

Cena then flies off one of the chamber pods with a cross body to AJ and Wyatt… but he pops up first, only to see an AA on Wyatt countered into the Sister Abigail, and Bray eliminates the champion! Well, that woke the crowd up! Wyatt instantly goes after Styles with some forearms to the back of the head, but AJ recovers with a sliding dropkick to trip Wyatt.

Wyatt pops up into his crab walk, before AJ rolls up out of a Sister Abigail… only to get decked with a clothesline for a near-fall. Styles elbows out of the uranage, before grazing Bray with a Pele kick and a diving knee. A springboard 450 splash gets AJ a two-count, so he removes his elbowpad as he goes for another Phenomenal Forearm… but he’s caught and Bray drills AJ with the Sister Abigal to win the WWE title! Bray’s first gold!

Ah, this was a well worked match – you could argue that there was perhaps only three “reasonable” winners, but Bray’s win means his search for a title ends… and also sets up an intriguing piece for down the road, as John Cena’s future title matches will be heated a little bit more as he searches for the record-breaking reign. ****

What Worked: Despite the finish largely being tipped off by the bookmakers, Bray Wyatt winning the Elimination Chamber sets up a nice, tense six weeks (or so) building up to Wyatt vs. Orton at WrestleMania.

What Didn’t: The handicap match was a little wonky from the off. Two babyfaces versus one heel? No matter who wins, someone loses – and it ended up worse than thought with the crowd cheering the heel by the end! Also, being pessimistic here, where do you go with the tag division now that American Alpha have run through everyone? Do you call up someone from NXT for WrestleMania, or do you forget those belts until after the show and put everyone in the Andre battle royal?

Thumbs: Wavering Up