The Best and Worst of WWE Elimination Chamber 2021
Twits and turns are to be expected on the Road to WrestleMania, but how does the journey look after the latest pitstop? Brandon Bethune looks at the best and worst of WWE Elimination Chamber 2021.
The Road to WrestleMania may be a bumpy one.
WWE started off their PPV year in fine form with the Royal Rumble, a largely enjoyable show that was received positively by fans. The 2021 Rumble seemed to put in place some of the pieces for a solid run-up to WrestleMania in April, however considering the old adage that ‘anything can happen in the WWE’, I feel we should’ve seen some twists in the tale on the horizon.
Elimination Chamber 2021 didn’t seem to promise much on paper, but the excitement for the show stemmed from how WWE were going to make their way to the obvious conclusions at the end of the night. Instead, what we got was a very newsworthy card with major title changes and story developments that has completely changed the outlook for WrestleMania.
Unlike the Royal Rumble though, it seems Elimination Chamber changed this road for the worse.
Best: The SmackDown Six
I’m going to judge this match on what came during it, not on what came after it.
The best thing on this whole show was what the opener, as Daniel Bryan, Cesaro, Sami Zayn, King Corbin, Kevin Owens and Jey Uso competed in the titular Chamber match with the promise of a Universal Championship Match against Roman Reigns for the winner. This match had been well built on Smackdown in the lead-up to the show, and the drama here more than matched what was promised coming in.
Daniel Bryan and Cesaro, two of the best wrestlers in the company, started the match. The beautiful back and forths between the pair was a precursor to the rest of the match, as this match grew into being potentially the best Chamber from an in-ring work-rate perspective of all time, something not always cherished in Chamber matches of the past.
King Corbin’s entry next signalled a change in the bout from an already stellar in-ring affair, to a great story, as Corbin began to target Bryan’s knee, which would plague him for the rest of the match. The drama and fun of the match was heightened by each entry, with Sami Zayn providing cunning and comic relief, Kevin Owens bringing an edge and extra brutality to his first Chamber outing (featuring a moonsault off the top of the pod no less), before Jey Uso made his presence felt entering last.
Corbin and Zayn were both eliminated without much fuss, a Sharpshooter from Cesaro and Stunner from Owens enough to do the trick for them respectively. The match picked up from here, with genuine uncertainty surrounding the winner making for a thrilling final four.
The dread surrounding another Owens/Reigns match was quickly evaporated by Jey Uso, who took advantage of his surroundings to crush Owens’ arm in the cage door before a splash eliminated him, leaving Uso, Bryan, and Cesaro as the final three. Here we returned right back to the beginning, with Cesaro and Daniel Bryan leathering on another, including a brilliant one-legged swing from Cesaro to put extra damage on Bryan’s knee, before he ate a super kick from Uso for the elimination.
This was all finished off afterwards by a running knee from Bryan after he kicked out of an Uso frog splash and avoided a second one before grabbing the pin to end this great match.
Only issue here is that the match itself may have been too good, completely overshadowing everything else on the show by going on first. That said, the great in-ring action and solid story told by Daniel Bryan specifically made this the Chamber match we all knew it could be on the night.
Shame it was all immediately undone then huh?
Worst: A Tribal Beatdown
I know I’m going to sound overly harsh here, and to be fair I’m not sure what I expected to be different.
The entire premise of the opening Chamber match was that the winner would be beaten and broken down before immediately having to face Roman Reigns for the title, creating a massive underdog moment waiting to happen. But given Reigns’ newfound penchant for quick and brutal beatdowns though, this instead set-up a Brock Lesnar-esque title defence that provided little in substance.
This isn’t to rail on WWE for having Reigns win, side-lining Bryan for another month in favour of a Reigns devastation and Edge to come in afterwards, but the way in which WWE went about things was so baffling to me.
The actual slow build to Reigns coming out with Bryan laying dead on the floor after winning the Chamber was dead on, selling the Chamber as brutal as hell and really making you anticipate the bout as Roman slowly and arrogantly walked to the ring. Even the action in the ring was good despite its brief duration, as Bryan countered an immediate Spear attempt by Roman Reigns into a Yes Lock for a wonderful tease of a Bryan upset, only for Roman to rip it from our grasp.
This was all well and good but what did WWE leave out? Well for one Bryan’s knee injury in the Chamber played into the Reigns match in no way shape or form, rendering that aspect pointless. Then WWE somehow rushed right into the Bryan hope spot, which lasted two seconds until Reigns killed him. Wouldn’t it have been better for Reigns to toy with Bryan a little, leaving him open to the attack before then cheaply going after the knee to ensure the win?
Edge’s run-in afterwards to confirm the inevitable of his ‘Mania match with Roman Reigns was fine too, but really drove into the ground how pointless and inconsequential the Chamber Match actually was, making you feel like you’d watched the first hour of the show go by without anything having actually been accomplished.
Maybe I am being harsh, but I feel Roman actually defending the championship in the Chamber itself would have served a better purpose, if only to provide more meaningful drama to a match that ultimately meant nothing beyond showcasing an Edge storyline that was already in place.
Best and Worst: The Bro Gets the Gold
Riddle me this ENRG Sport readers. What do you call a skilled MMA fighter who has to use a weapon to win championships? A coward is what you call it, otherwise known as a Matt Riddle. Sorry, just Riddle.
With no apologies of harshness coming your way for this entry, Riddle’s win in the United States Championship Triple Threat Match over rival Bobby Lashley and John Morrison (who earned his spot in the match on the Kickoff Show after Keith Lee dropped out with injury) was a fun match and I’m more than happy to see Riddle with his first singles championship in WWE. But the way WWE decided to get there was just so weird.
The psychology of the match revolved around Lashley’s dominance, which is greater considering he’s been so strongly built up as the champion of late, but similar to how strangely WWE have booked the Lashley/Riddle rivalry over the last few months, the roles both men were playing seemed to be oddly configured.
Lashley threw around Riddle and Jo-Mo the majority of the match, before the pair went to double team the champion in an attempt to neutralise his attack. Not a cardinal sin, babyface and heels working together on the monster heel to slow him down is a Triple Threat trope we all know and deal with, yet the match seemed to push further in the direction of Lashley as an unstoppable babyface when he’s meant to be a massive arsehole.
First John Morrison took the injured MVP’s crutch at ringside for no real reason, before trying to use it on Lashley. Fair enough, Morrison is a chickenshit heel after all, but this heel vs heel dynamic doesn’t register, and maybe you’d have been better off inserting a babyface into this match instead of John Morrison. Second, and a lot less fairly, the heroic babyface Riddle comes in and wipes out Lashley with the weapon, before pinning Morrison to steal the championship like a total heel.
This is indicative of a larger issue in how WWE for the most part is now completely inept in the thing it used to build itself, the conquering babyface. Now WWE good guys have to be snarky, sarcastic goofballs who can’t get the job done without adopting the tactics of their heelish rivals.
Yes, it was No DQ. Yes, Lashley needed to be protected. And yes, Morrison was a heel too, but did Riddle really need to jump through all these heel hoops just to take the belt off Lashley? I’d say no, bro.
If only Lashley had something big to do at the end of the show to make up for this and portray him as more of the monster heel he is….if only.
Worst: Because the Women’s Division Needs More Men
In my Royal Rumble review I praised the Women’s Royal Rumble Match for building Bianca Belair, but at the same time criticised Sasha Banks vs Carmella and the Women’s Tag Team Championships for being overshadowed. These contrasting uses of the women’s division made it unclear how WWE were going to make use of the SmackDown Women’s Title and Tag Titles going into WrestleMania. The answer? The women’s division needs more men.
At Elimination Chamber, Sasha Banks, the SmackDown Women’s Champion, teamed with Bianca Belair, the Women’s Royal Rumble winner, to face Shayna Baszler and Nia Jax, the Women’s Tag Team Champions, and in the end the entire focus was on Reginald, the non-wrestler man.
For some reason, Reginald has been inserted directly into the main women’s storyline on SmackDown as Banks’ love interest. He has pinned one of the women’s tag champions, and has made Belair the fourth wheel in her own star making story.
WWE’s obsession with having its women’s stories dominated by men is absolutely ridiculous at this point, and it’s not restricted to SmackDown. Ric Flair is the focus of a feud between Lacey Evans and his daughter Charlotte, which has simultaneously sucked in the Raw Women’s Champion Asuka, so much so that once Lacey and Ric were out of the picture, Asuka’s title defence was dropped from the show completely. Alexa Bliss is a side note in The Fiend vs Randy Orton bollocks. God forbid you find a use for someone like Rhea Ripley because she’d probably end up managing Reginald. Maybe that’s the debut WWE have been waiting for.
Why not focus the story of the tag team match on Banks and Belair’s fragile partnership and competitive rivalry going into WrestleMania – which in of itself isn’t perfect given that it buries the tag titles. It’s absolutely baffling how Reginald, with no disrespect to the charismatic and athletic performer he is, is now the central point of the SmackDown women’s division in many ways heading into WrestleMania.
Yes, it will likely just lead to be a Carmella-masterminded ploy, but why not just, y’know, have Carmella be the focus of the story. I just don’t know anymore with this company.
The worst didn’t end here.
Speaking of not knowing anymore with this company, does WWE have any idea what year it is?
Calling back to my Royal Rumble review again, I mentioned in that piece that Edge’s Royal Rumble victory and Goldberg’s match with Drew McIntyre represented the larger issue WWE had at its feet, in that it relied too much on the prior generation to elevate its current one. To paraphrase the words of Mustafa Ali, when is it the current generations time to walk the path paved by the generation before them?
The WWE Championship Elimination Chamber Match was lambasted in the build to the show for featuring ‘former world champions’ such as the stale Jeff Hardy, Randy Orton, who has already dominated the title picture over the last year, and Kofi Kingston, who all of a sudden cares about the WWE Championship after a year and a half of ignoring its existence after he was murdered by Brock Lesnar. AJ Styles and Sheamus have at least been built up, and Drew McIntyre still feels fresh and important as champion.
Good then that Drew McIntyre, Sheamus, and AJ Styles were the final three in the match, and that Bobby Lashley (who is no spring chicken himself but at least feels fresh too) made his presence felt by laying waste to McIntyre after the fact. All was good, until The Miz’s music hit.
The Miz, who lost the briefcase at TLC last year. The Miz, who lost to Gran Metalik and was then awarded back the briefcase for no reason. The Miz, who has had his ass handed to him by Bad Bunny. The Miz, WWE Champion.
Ten years ago, The Miz was the WWE Champion going into WrestleMania, and ten years later we sit in the exact same spot with the same poor results.
Irrespective of my pessimistic tone, The Miz has at least some mainstream appeal, and with the WWE Network moving to Peacock, having the belt on him to lose to Drew or even Lashley at Fastlane will maybe provide good business for the first Peacock pay-per-view (say that five times fast).
But it’s the fact that WWE have to rely on an under built Miz to get people watching the show, or at least that’s how WWE sees it. That shows that the real problem of WWE’s failure to build stars is still looming large over the road to WrestleMania.