The blue brand’s last stop before Elimination Chamber is in Toledo, Ohio.
The SmackDown creative team had a great idea for the ‘go home’ show before a pay-per-view (PPV) which will see WWE champion Daniel Bryan defend his new belt in a Chamber match against AJ Styles, Randy Orton, Mustafa Ali, Samoa Joe & Jeff Hardy. A gauntlet match to determine whose pod will open last on Sun., Feb. 17 in Houston’s Toyota Center.
It’s not a flawless idea – the two men who start the gauntlet obviously have smaller odds of winning the advantage at Elimination Chamber, and there’s been no mention of how tonight’s order was selected. But it’s better than, say, making an Intercontinental title match without explaining why and then trying to sell the team with two guys on it as the underdogs.
Sorry. Where was I?
Oh yeah, whatever quibbles there might be, the upside is we should get a long stretch of wrestling between talented performers, with something on the line, as a way to entice us to pay for more of the same this weekend. Brilliant!
There’s potentially an issue however. WWE hasn’t addressed it, but word is Ali is injured and won’t be cleared in time for the Chamber match. This isn’t a stipulation where they can just not replace him, either. The structure has four pods, and they’re always filled. So if not Mustafa, then who?
There are four good options, but they’re all tied up in other programs. Not that they can’t take a quick break from those feuds and angles, but…
Shinsuke Nakamura & Rusev have both unsuccessfully challenged for the WWE championship in the past, and are credible challengers. But they just started a reluctant tag partners thing after losing the United States title to R-Truth. Picking one of them for a spot in the Chamber could be a way to drive another wedge between them, however. Or the red, white & blue titleholder himself could go in. Ron Killings: Champ Champ has a nice ring to it.
There’s also Rey Mysterio & Andrade. Rey’s a future Hall of Famer and there’s no need to explain why he’d get a chance like this. Pausing this feud seems less likely, though, because they’re pretty deep into the story of Cien needing to defeat Mysterio in order to claim his spot. If the masked luchador gets in, Zelina Vega’s business associate could always find a way to sneak in and cost him the match to further their program. Like steel cages and Hell in a Cell, the Chamber is remarkably easy to break into.
My personal wild card would be to add Bryan’s intellectual peer, Rowan. Not sure what narrative gymnastics this would take… probably a qualifying match win, and there may not be time to set that up… but playing with alliances inside the structure can be fun, and Bryan is probably winning anyway.
The big “mystery partner” options are Luke Harper or Bray Wyatt. Former Intercontinental champ Harper is supposed to be back soon, and while his old cult leader (and former WWE champ) Bray was technically a Raw Superstar last we saw him, he’s been waiting to return for a while. I don’t think too many fans would complain.
Who will it be? Will they tell us tonight, or make us wait until Sunday? Maybe Ali got cleared while you were reading that? Find out with us tonight, or sometime between now and Feb. 17!
The Title Scene
WWE’s official preview for this week’s episode doesn’t mention Women’s champ Asuka. But it does ask what Charlotte Flair’s new status as the #1 contender for Raw’s title means for the blue brand’s roster, so there’s that. At least the Empress got that sick video package last week.
It’s also not mention on WWE.com, but on last night’s Raw, Sasha Banks & Bayley lost their way into starting Sunday’s other Chamber match. Michael Cole hinted we’d learn whether Naomi & Carmella, The IIconics or Fire & Desire would join them in starting the bout that will give the new Women’s Tag titleholders.
The Men’s Tag Team belts will certainly be a topic of discussion when champs Shane McMahon & The Miz welcome challengers The Usos to the first edition of McMiz TV.
Other stuff to keep an eye on:
– Maybe the NXT call-ups will be around? Probably not, and any permanent assignments for Nikki Cross, Heavy Machinery, Lacey Evans, EC3 or Lars Sullivan will probably have to wait until after the PPV.
It’s the Elimination Chamber ‘go home’ show!
What will you be looking for on SmackDown Live tonight?