On Sunday night on the WWE's "Elimination Chamber" pay-per-view, the former MMA champion started her first feud. Is she ready?
Sunday night at the WWE's “Elimination Chamber,” former MMA star Ronda Rousey signed her WWE contract, and like all such staged contract signing sequences, it was a little pokey as we waited for the inevitable. There was no question that she was going to sign the contract since she really signed one long before she appeared on WWE television. The question in those scenes is usually how they’re going to end, or more specifically, who is going to get physically punished. In this case, Raw GM Kurt Angle played the role of Basil Exposition and let Rousey know that Triple H and Stephanie McMahon have been plotting their revenge on her for the last three years, and that signing her to a WWE contract is part of that plot. As contrived as Angle’s speech was, he made the moment funny, delivering the lines like the drunk uncle in a rom-com. Rousey started glowering at McMahon, who went full evil McMahon on her when Rousey began to hesitate. The show stopping moment came when Rousey slammed Triple H through the signing table, making it clear that she is going to start in a feud with The Authority.
Rumors from the last month pointed this direction. McMahon has been training at the WWE’s Performance Center to get ready for more in-ring action than a bump or a single high spot, and there has been talk of developing her character into a Mr. McMahon-like mega-heel on Raw. There may be a little cognitive drag in that plan since she is the WWE’s smiling face of feel-good moments as the company’s Chief Brand Officer, but on screen, the move seems like a natural progression. Since Rousey’s run-in with McMahon came with The Rock at Wrestlemania 31, the rumor has been that Rousey and The Rock will face McMahon and Triple H at Wrestlemania in New Orleans. After Sunday night, Angle is her more probable partner—one that makes sense after last year’s “Survivor Series” match when Triple H turned on Angle.
A tag team would be a good starting place for Rousey, so that she wouldn’t have to carry the match. Sunday night suggested she’s not ready for prime time yet. She received Angle’s news with the frowny face of a girl who’s brother threatened to steal her teddy, and there’s no getting around the fact that by WWE standards, she looks small. When she walked down the ramp at The Royal Rumble, Rowdy Roddy Piper’s leather jacket was a nice accessory, but it was obviously too big for her and made her seem like a little sister when in the ring with Asuka, Charlotte Flair, and Stephanie McMahon. Her jacket Sunday night fitted her better, but she still appeared shorter than McMahon, and much smaller than Triple H and Angle. The WWE needs to help her find a way to radiate “badass” more quickly because even though she actually is one, Rousey doesn’t yet look the part on screen.
In other “Elimination Chamber” news, the men’s match was a very entertaining stand-alone show, but as a lead-in to Wrestlemania, it was confusing. Braun Strowman eliminated five competitors before finally losing to Roman Reigns. Strowman was the most awesome, destructive force in the ring. At one point, he took everybody’s finishing move and got up or found safe haven after each of them. After taking two spears and the pin from Reigns, Strowman got up and beat down Reigns. Reigns will face Brock Lesnar at Wrestlemania because he won the match, but Sunday night made Strowman look like the more compelling match-up. Reigns will likely have a better match with Lesnar than Strowman would, but it’s not the match that the Elimination Chamber pointed to.
At this point, John Cena, Seth Rollins and Finn Balor lack Wrestlemania dance partners, and nothing that happened Sunday night moved them closer to the Smoothie King Center. In that way, the match was a let down. It seemed like a change to give two of them of reason to face each other down the line, but that didn’t happen Still, separate the match from its place in WWE storylines and it was entertaining as hell. Everybody had great, creative moments, including Elias coming out of his pod to try to pin four prone wrestlers, only to have each kick out. Unlike many multi-player matches where participants duck out for minutes at a time to get more manageable one-on-one encounters, much of the match remained in multi-player mode with bodies flying everywhere.
As always, I love The Miz, who gave the Elimination Chamber some life right from the start when he tried to convince Rollins to gang up with him against Balor, and when that didn’t work, tried to get Balor to gang up with him against Rollins. At one point, Strowman bounced him face-first off the plexiglas over one of the pods, then threw Miz on to the wrestlers below. His Wile E. Coyote-ness is strong and makes every match he touches more entertaining.
The women’s Elimination Chamber match was less successful as it had less star power, with Mandy Rose and Sonya DeVille of Absolution filling out the numbers. They were the first two eliminated, and neither did anything memorable while in the ring. The two stories of the match were Sasha Banks turning on Bayley—apparently—and Alexa Bliss earning a win. The one stain on Bliss’ recent title run has been how weak she has seemed as a wrestler. If it weren’t for opportunistic, connived, or scammed wins, she’d have no wins at all in the last year. Undeserved wins help build heel heat, but on Sunday night, she stayed in character as she worked to avoid conflict and let others weaken themselves first, but then became wolverine-like when she had to fight and was more interesting for it. Once the match got down to Bayley, Banks and Bliss, it too was a lot of fun, and unlike the men’s match, it pointed to a Bayley/Banks feud that would make sense at Wrestlemania if the card had room.