PHILADELPHIA – Not every big pro wrestling card can end with the fans going home happy. Sometimes the main event needs to go the unpopular route in the service of a larger plan, and particularly when it’s close to WrestleMania time, WWE pay-per-views sometimes get sacrificed to keep all the narratives going. Still, that doesn’t mean you have to send the fans home confused, or worst of all, apathetic.
At least for the fans in attendance at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, that’s exactly what happened at the end of Elimination Chamber. The main event, the third ever women’s version of the event’s namesake match, threw away any momentum from earlier in the night and turned into a master class on how not to keep a live crowd engaged. The outcome was never in doubt, given the way WWE has been teasing a Becky Lynch-Shayna Baszler showdown and the fact that the victor on Sunday would face Lynch at WrestleMania, but it’s now fair to wonder how many of those in attendance are going to be interested in seeing them square off.
That’s not to say Baszler wasn’t made to look dominant, which she surely did. Given the way Lynch has handled all comers, it’s no easy task to make any of her opponents seem like credible threats. So Baszler running through the other five competitors, a mixed bag that included the three former members of the Riott Squad — all now at odds with each other, and thus feeling like throw-ins for this match anyway — Natalya and Asuka, was not the problem.
It was the way the match was booked that was the issue. Instead of having Baszler enter the match last, she entered fourth, with Liv Morgan and Asuka still in their pods. Baszler quickly submitted Logan, then Riott, then Natalya, all with pretty much the same sequence of moves: slam, knee to the face, Kirifuda Clutch.
After that, in the words of the late, great, Tom Petty, the waiting was the hardest part. There were still several minutes left until the next wrestler entered, and without the benefit of announcers to fill time, the fans in Philly got restless for something to happen. It didn’t help when Baszler annihilated Morgan in similar fashion, meaning there was more time for nothing to take place until Asuka was released from her pod.
The final action between Asuka and Baszler was fine, as was the Queen of Spades winning as expected. But the intermittent periods of boos and obvious silence — perhaps the quietest main event this writer has ever witnessed in three decades of attending live wrestling cards — couldn’t possibly have been part of the plan. Then the show just … ended. No appearance by Lynch for a staredown, which would at least have made the crowd, by then desperate to cheer something, react. Baszler wins, thanks for coming, drive home safely.
Hometown boy Drew with a reverse superplex on Daniel Bryan.
Making it even more of a shame was the fact that the night started out hot. Daniel Bryan and Drew Gulak put on a technical clinic of the kind the WWE often gets criticized for not allowing in the show’s opener, with Gulak looking great in his hometown. The tag team Elimination Chamber match for the Smackdown Tag Team Championship belts was also full of highlights, including Otis of Heavy Machinery putting all previous moves that destroyed a pod to shame, and Lince Dorado executing a breathtaking swinging drop from the top of the cage.
The Undertaker lords over AJ Styles.
Nothing that followed, except for a cameo by The Undertaker and maybe the entrance of the Street Profits, could keep up that same level of energy. It was noticeably calmer during the bouts in-between the Chamber matches, putting the wrestlers who worked them in tough spots. When the show lost its way, it wasn’t because of any lack of effort by the people involved.
And it could still have ended in rousing fashion if not for the perplexing booking of the finale. Again, on TV, it might have come off fine. It absolutely positioned Baszler as a badass who might even give The Man a run for her money. If the ends justify the means to set things up for WrestleMania, then mission accomplished.
But it’s fair to wonder if that’s really the case. The fans who attend the pay-per-views in the months between Royal Rumble and WrestleMania spend their money and make the effort to go see the shows just like the people at WWE’s two biggest cards. If Elimination Chamber wasn’t sold out on Sunday, it was pretty darn close, with people all the way up to to the top rows of the arena.
Many of them left with a bad taste in their mouths, something way beyond the usual “wrestler I don’t like won tonight” heat. Philadelphia has been through that before, when the fans lustily booed Roman Reigns at the end of the 2015 Royal Rumble, and that sound is a lot different than the mix of halfhearted boos and muttering as everyone filed out on Sunday. Let’s hope that the WWE higher-ups took notice and make sure that doesn’t happen again, because it’s never fun to feel like you’re being taken for granted, and if the end of Elimination Chamber gave any impression at all, that was it.