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Elimination Chamber thoughts, likely WrestleMania card

Last night’s Elimination Chamber pay per view was one of WWE’s best efforts in a long time. It included four good to great matches—including one early match of the year candidate—a title change, two surprise returns, and a lot of logical, solid booking. It also served to finalize the two world title matches at WrestleMania.

Some quick thoughts on the show:

. Booker T is just terrible as an announcer - maybe the worst ever. Bad wrestling announcers usually contribute nothing to a product. Booker T actually takes away from it. I don't know how many times throughout the night I said out loud, "Shut up already, Booker." He is just an endless fountain of cliches who clearly has not been following the WWE product and is just going through the motions. Almost anyone would be a better in that position than him. I can't imagine who thought this was a good fit.

. Alberto Del Rio and Kofi Kingston had a very good opening match. Headed into his WrestleMania world title match, Del Rio needed a clean win against a credible babyface like Kingston. Meanwhile, Kingston benefitted from looking as good as he did in this high profile match. I hope WWE has some meaningful plans for Kingston in 2011, as he’d be on my short list of young talent that I would put on the fast track to a world title run. Unlike the majority of fresh talent that has benefited from WWE’s youth movement, Kingston brings something different to the table—a marketable babyface persona. WWE is in desperate need of some new “good guys” in their main event picture, and Kingston is an obvious candidate for that slot.

. The Smackdown Elimination Chamber was the best match I’ve seen so far this year. And in a post-Shawn Michaels world, it has a decent chance of being 2011’s match of the year. From bell to bell, the six men delivered tons of action, innovative spots, and compelling drama. The match got even better when it got down to Edge and Rey Mysterio. In fact, the two men were so good together in the ring, it probably got a lot of fans (including me) and even WWE officials second guessing their Smackdown world title match plans for WrestleMania. In a main event slot on a big stage, these two could definitely come through with one of the better singles matches you could get from Smackdown, if not all of WWE. Just tremendous.

. Christian’s return at the end of the match to save his former tag team partner Edge from Del Rio’s attack was a nice treat for fans. It will be interesting to see what plans WWE has for Christian. Because Christian has historically not been seen as a main event player by Vince McMahon, I’d be surprised to see him inserted into the WrestleMania world title match to make it a triple threat bout with Edge and Del Rio. It’s more likely that he simply aligns himself with Edge leading into the Mania bout, then turns on him at the show to lead into a post-Mania Edge vs. Christian feud. Whatever the case, Christian certainly has more to offer than WWE has taken advantage of over the years. It’s nice to see him get the spotlight.

. Trish Stratus’ return to WWE probably fell flatter than most people would have expected. Her interplay with Booker T during the in-ring interview was awkward and clumsy. And her involvement later with LayCool when she made the save for Kelly Kelly was just kind of a mess (It didn’t help that she was wearing high heels.) She’s certainly a welcome addition to the Divas’ roster—even if it’s just temporary—but it may take a little work by WWE writers to get this storyline on the right track.

. Nobody much cared about Santino Marella & Vladimir Kozlov losing the tag team championship to Heath Slater & Justin Gabriel, because nobody much cares about WWE’s weak tag team division. Tag team wrestling remains the one area in which WWE is far behind TNA, and even Ring of Honor. Slater & Gabriel certainly have a much greater upside than Kozlove & Santino, but with no real competition to speak of (The Usos? Mark Henry & Yoshi Tatsu?) reigning atop WWE’s tag team division may be more a curse than a blessing.

. The Jerry Lawler-Miz WWE title match was executed to perfection. Because this bout featured a 62-year-old man challenging for the world title, it had to rely on emotion, rather than athleticism, to carry it. To that end, both men delivered great performances and told a great story. During several moments, it looked feasible that Lawler would actually win the championship. But in the end, Miz got the clean victory to keep his momentum going heading into a WrestleMania main event. The match also served to further develop to the storyline between Lawler and Michael Cole, which one would assume would culminate in some sort of WrestleMania match (either between Lawler and Cole or Lawler and Alex Reilly.) Whatever the case, Lawler should be incredibly proud of his performance on such a big stage, at this stage in his career, and just days after losing his mother. He showed why he is one of the very best showmen in the history of the sport last night.

. The Raw Elimination Chamber match was a notch below the Smackdown one, but was still an entirely satisfying pay per view main event. The highlight for me was the interplay between CM Punk and Randy Orton, especially Punk’s performance as a cowardly, shameless heel. John Morrison also got to shine in this match with his unorthadox acrobatics. Cena’s victory was the right outcome, even if it was predictable. Showing The Miz watching on from backstage was a nice touch.

. And so with about five weeks to go, the card for WrestleMania XXVII is starting to come into focus. Here’s what it’s looking like:

WWE Championship
The Miz (champion) vs. John Cena (Expect The Rock to play an important role in this one)

World Heavyweight Championship
Edge (champion) vs. Alberto Del Rio (with perhaps Christian in Edge’s corner)

The Undertaker vs. Triple-H (This one is certainly not set in stone, but has been widely rumored and certainly makes sense. Some are speculating that Triple-H will put his career on the line, and that Shawn Michaels may be special referee.)

Randy Orton vs. C.M. Punk

Trish Stratus & Kelly Kelly vs. LayCool

Money In The Bank Ladder Match (Likely to feature various midcarders including John Morrison, Dolph Ziggler, Kofi Kingston, Daniel Bryan, R-Truth, Drew McIntyre and others.)

Rey Mysterio vs. Cody Rhodes

Diesel vs. The Big Show (This one is far from a done deal, but was teased at The Royal Rumble.)

It’s a solid, if unspectacular card. The Rock’s involvement as host is going to be essential in making this show feel like a big deal.

New York Sports