It seems pretty obvious that WWE is stretching out the walkup to the main event at WrestleMania 34 being Brock Lesnar vs. Roman Reigns by forcing Reigns to win the right to challenge the Universal champ at Elimination Chamber.
This being pro wrestling, though, is it possible that there’s a swerve a-comin’?
Credit to WWE for creating interest in Elimination Chamber with the seven-way play-in game to WM 34 in the main event. You can make an argument for Reigns, Seth Rollins, Braun Strowman, John Cena, The Miz or Finn Balor walking out of the chamber with the win and the title shot.
Elias, eh, not so much, despite the great sales job by Monday Night Raw commentator Jonathan Coachman on Busted Open on Friday, to the effect that because Elias is currently getting the biggest fan reactions on the Raw roster, hey, Elias-Lesnar, why not?
The why not with Elias, and with the other competitors not named Reigns, is that the creative here doesn’t just give us a compelling Elimination Chamber pay-per-view with the winner of the namesake match getting the main event at ‘Mania, but the way the match can be played out can pair off the losers for their own Roads to WrestleMania.
For instance, back to Elias, whose breakthrough match was on a January Raw against Cena in a show opener that stretched on past 25 minutes, giving The Drifter the beginning of a push that he has taken and run with.
Cena had reportedly been in the works for the Undertaker match at this year’s ‘Mania, but with ‘Taker very much on the down low at this stage, Cena needs a dance partner, and Elias, if he is a future building block for WWE, needs to get the rub of facing Cena on the company’s biggest show of the year.
Which leaves us with Strowman, Rollins, Miz and Balor. I agree with the commentators who have been advancing the idea that Miz has been the unquestioned star of Raw over the past year, as the only singles champ who consistently appears on TV and defends his title. And then there’s Strowman, who has made a quantum leap from the jolly green giant who needed to be booked in squashes for months to get over as he learned the basics to being a legit threat to Lesnar in the main-event scene.
What about Miz-Strowman at WrestleMania? Fearsome giant and the chickenshit heel. On paper, Strowman kicks the crap out of anybody, so why not make him face WWE’s new-era cerebral assassin?
Which would leave us with Rollins vs. Balor. Wouldn’t be hard to sell this one as a ‘Mania match. Balor has been aligning more and more with his former Bullet Club mates Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson of late, so a full-out heel turn for Balor aimed at getting revenge for the botched buckle bomb that cost him the Universal title makes sense.
Plus, that would mean we get Balor vs. Rollins on an undercard before the WWE title match with A.J. Styles vs. Shinsuke Nakamura.
You give me those matches, and I won’t care that the match closes with the plodding Lesnar and Reigns because that’s what makes Vince McMahon happy.
The trick next Sunday night, then, isn’t, how do we make it not seem so amazingly obvious that Roman Reigns was going to win this all along, but rather, how do we get to that as the climax, while also using the rest of what goes on to set up what we need it to?
That will be the fun we get to have, and I think it should be a lot of fun.
Chris Graham is the editor of Augusta Free Press, and a former wrestling creative writer and promoter.