There are only two WWE pay-per-view events scheduled before WrestlMania 34 in New Orleans on April 8th. Raw’s performers will present Elimination Chamber on February 25th, and SmackDown’s superstars will go to war at Fastlane on March 11th. With such a small slate of events between now and the biggest show of the year, you’d think that the title pictures on both brands would be coming into sharp focus. Instead, things might be muddier than ever before.
Elimination Chamber will feature two chamber matches. Seven men will battle for the right to face Brock Lesnar for the Universal Championship at ‘Mania. Six women will fight for the Raw Women’s Championship, including current title-holder Alexa Bliss. While it isn’t set in stone yet, it’s largely assumed that the winner of that match will go on to face Asuka at the big show in the Big Easy.
Fastlane also has a multi-man match for the WWE Championship. AJ Styles will defend against Kevin Owens, Sami Zayn, Baron Corbin and Dolph Ziggler in a Fatal 5-Way match. Only SmackDown Women’s Champion Charlotte Flair looks to be in a one-on-one match for her title, though the challenger has yet to be determined. (Ruby Riott?)
Apparently, WWE’s creative team thinks that the more people you force into the title picture, the better. That’s not true. There’s another reason that WWE is utilizing these gimmick matches.
WWE Booking 101 with the Professor
The answer is painfully clear. WWE is utilizing these multi-person matches as a smokescreen. The outcomes of all four of the matches surrounding the major titles are already set in stone and have been for months. Vince and his cronies don’t want fans to realize that there’s no good reason to watch the main events at Elimination Chamber or Fastlane.
On the Raw side, the Elimination Chamber will feature Elias, John Cena, Roman Reigns, Braun Strowman, Finn Balor, Seth Rollins and The Miz. The winner goes on to face Brock Lesnar at WrestleMania. This is an impressive list of names, but there’s not much anticipation for the match. Anyone who follows WWE on a regular basis knows that Reigns is going to be the winner here. WWE has wanted a Reigns/Lesnar rematch for at least a year, and every booking decision thus far has been made to further that objective. So, instead of making bigger stars out of Elias, Balor or Strowman, WWE is using them for cannon fodder. Barring a major injury or legal issue, Reigns will win the Chamber match. This is bad for two reasons. First, it’s utterly predictable. Reigns could have been booked to face Lesnar in a lot of ways that don’t involve the Elimination Chamber. Even if you believe that the Universal Championship has to be on the line when Roman faces Brock at WrestleMania (it doesn’t), there were other ways to set up that match. The second problem is that, instead of putting them in other more meaningful matches where they could shine, Elias, Balor and Strowman are simply going to be bodies for Reigns to climb over on his way to Lesnar. Don’t get me wrong, I like Roman Reigns, and I think he’s the right choice to bring the Universal title back to weekly TV. I just don’t think they needed to destroy the pushes of other performers to get him there.
While there’s slightly more doubt about who will be the Raw Women’s Champion when April comes around, chances are that WWE only sees two viable options. Alexa Bliss will defend against Bayley, Sasha Banks, Mandy Rose, Mickie James and Sonya DeVille. Nia Jax will square off with Asuka. Even though Asuka hasn’t officially said who she wants to face at WrestleMania, a privilege she earned by winning the Royal Rumble, the stipulation is that if Jax wins, she’ll be added to the women’s championship match at WrestleMania. Part of me is afraid that WWE is going to book Jax to beat Asuka, but the sane part of me realizes that no person in their right mind would book the end to Asuka’s winning streak (now at more than two years and counting) at any event not called WrestleMania. So, assuming Jax loses the match, there are only really two women in the Chamber bout that would be worthy of a contest with Asuka at WM34. Either Bliss retains, or Sasha Banks cements her (SOOO SLOOOOW) heel turn and wins the match by nefarious means. Either way, WWE would be very smart to have The Empress of Tomorrow take the belt in New Orleans, and stay undefeated for at least another year, when Asuka/Flair or Asuka/Ronda Rousey could be the biggest women’s match in the company’s history.
The women’s SmackDown picture is simple. Flair will have the belt in New Orleans. All that remains to be seen is who she’ll defend against. Whichever opponent faces The Queen at Fastlane is only a speedbump on the road to WrestleMania.
Just as Flair is a lock to keep her title until WM, AJ Styles will still be the WWE Champion. Owens and Zayn are in the match at Fastlane just to have some semblance of a real threat to Styles. Corbin and Ziggler don’t belong in the title picture. I suspect they’re in the mix to help further the storyline that will eventually lead to the breakup of KO and Zayn. Shinsuke Nakamura has announced that he wants to face Styles at WrestleMania, and that’s what is going to happen. You can bank on it. There’s probably a bigger chance of Reigns losing in the Chamber than there is of Nakamura facing anyone but The Phenomenal one in New Orleans.
So don’t be fooled by complicated booking. The title matches for WrestleMania have been written in stone for months now. Only Flair’s opponent remains a mystery. Ockham’s Razor says that the simplest answer is usually the best answer. Too bad no one in Stamford subscribes to that philosophy.
Next week, I’ll give you my preview and predictions for Elimination Chamber. Until then….