WWE Elimination Chamber 2015 Predictions

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We thought we had seen the last of it - and I, for one, wasn't too bothered by that - but somehow all of a sudden WWE has managed not only to schedule a last-minute Elimination Chamber special (on the last day of a free Network subscription month with only an hour to cancel afterward if you don't want to pay $9.99, how crafty), but they have also built it to be one of the year's most promising events.

Check out this 40-second trailer for Dark Departure Movies, then scroll down to get the lowdown on what will go down at Elimination Chamber.

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Bo Dallas vs. Neville
I began regularly tuning in to NXT with the first Takeover, so I missed all but the finale of these two former NXT Champions' initial feud. I can't help but believe (Bo-lieve?), however, that what we're seeing now is but a pale reflection of that storyline.
I have been a fan of Bo Dallas for his brilliant gimmick and it's nice to see him back on television, but the miniature feel of this renewed rivalry seems to be doing nothing for him while detrimentally stunting Adrian Neville's gravity-defying rise in popularity of late.
I want both of these men to succeed, but at the moment Neville's success feels crucial. Dallas cheating to win, or taking advantage of Neville's (kayfabe) injury again would only extend an angle that needs either longer segments (which it will not receive) or to be nipped in the bud. Give me a Red Arrow, a pinfall, and an entry in to the Money in the Bank ladder match... or at least Intercontinental Championship contention.
Winner: Neville

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John Cena vs. Kevin Owens
NXT really is taking over! In case you haven't been watching: Kevin Owens is kind of the man right now. His shocking appearance on Raw last week - which ended with Cena laid out in the middle of the ring - is one of the greatest surprises WWE has given me. There are a few tricky elements in the prediction of this match's outcome, though.
First, Owens is the current NXT Champion, after retaining in a no contest against Sami Zayn at Takeover: Unstoppable. Sure, the United States Title is not on the line here (and sure, Paige did win the Divas Title while still holding the NXT Women's Title last year), but a victory might imply a cemented main roster status... and where would that leave the NXT Championship?
Second, this is John Cena we're talking about here. Because of everything that has been debated to death regarding his well-deserved position in the company, Cena is not an easy man to beat.
Third, even if Owens did forfeit his NXT title for a spot on the main roster a la Paige (unlikely), he would be leaving with unfinished business. He and the newly reintroduced Samoa Joe are on a collision course, and it doesn't seem like one to be handled as an afterthought while Owens' focus is elsewhere.
On one hand this is a major star-making opportunity for WWE. On the other, it is difficult to envision them allowing Cena to roll over for Owens. This is why I'm thinking the match will wind up akin to Unstoppable's main event - evenly contested until Cena suffers a powerbomb on the apron, at which point Owens begins a ruthless onslaught leading to a ruling of 'no contest'. Owens continues the beatdown until Samoa Joe appears to save the day. Owens looks like a beast, Cena is protected, and NXT's hottest new feud is promoted. It's almost too specific a prediction to come true, but there it is.
Winner: N/A

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The New Day (c) vs. The Ascension vs. Lucha Dragons vs. Los Matadores vs. Prime Time Players vs. Tyson Kidd & Cesaro
Elimination Chamber Match for the WWE Tag Team Championship
The most compelling aspect of this match is its status as the first time 12 men will be inside the Elimination Chamber as opposed to six. I'm honestly surprised WWE isn't going with a 3-team, one-wrestler-per-pod scenario. What's more surprising is that Los Matadores are in this thing instead of the freshly reunited Luke Harper & Erick Rowan. I'm half-expecting the former Wyatt Family to take out the Puerto Rican bullfighters on their way to the ring and enter the match themselves.
Recently WWE's Tag Team Title picture has revolved around two teams at a time, so while Lucha Dragons et al. may appear for an acrobatic exhibition from time to time, it's difficult to imagine a more sidelined team leaving with the straps. With New Day's reign still in its infancy and the group's heat growing hotter and hotter, I can only imagine Xavier Woods will concoct some nefarious plot to steal yet another win.
Winners: The New Day

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Nikki Bella (c) vs. Naomi vs. Paige
Triple Threat Match for the WWE Divas Championship
The weekly television segments have been hit and miss, and sure the Bellas' babyface turn was more obligatory than the last time Big Show turned face just because he came to the ring smiling, but for the most part I have found myself quite interested in the Divas Title picture in recent months. Nikki has improved immensely over the past year, and Naomi has performed her heel turn so well I legitimately don't want to see her win despite her storied talent! Also, Paige is Paige, and what more could you want there?
I could see this match going to either of the challengers, but my gut tells me Nikki will retain yet again. The Bellas have become an important brand that reaches beyond WWE's usual demographic, and keeping the title on Nikki - perhaps with the intention of breaking AJ Lee's record with the current "Divas" incarnation of it - seems like a business move the company won't resist.
If you're not a Bellas fan, look on the bright side: what better opponent for Charlotte Flair to crush?
Winner: Nikki Bella

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Dolph Ziggler vs. King Barrett vs. R-Truth vs. Rusev vs. Ryback vs. Sheamus
Elimination Chamber Match for the vacant WWE Intercontinental Championship
Well, if Daniel Bryan sadly cannot defend the midcard title he won at WrestleMania, I suppose the next-best thing to help it regain some lost luster is put it in a Chamber. How we're supposed to believe these wrestlers qualified for their spots in said Chamber is another story.
Several simmering rivalries aside, there's not much to say here except we can expect a hard-hitting match with a definitive victor.
R-Truth and King Barrett are fodder, and Rusev and Ziggler will likely cancel one another out with some kind of Lana involvement (a compelling storyline that Ziggler really has no business being a part of, except as a surrogate for Rusev to express his aggression upon). This leaves two strong-style behemoths likely to leave nothing but unrecognizable mounds of flesh behind in the ring - "The Big Guy" Ryback, and the newly invigorated (finally heel again) Sheamus. I dig both, and both have been pushed as different kinds of conquerors these past few weeks, but this is more or less a coin flip. With heels taking the other Chamber match I'm tempted to pick Ryback for his first WWE title win, but my gut is pointing me toward the Celtic Warrior - a man who just may need the win more than any of his opponents.
Winner: Sheamus

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Seth Rollins (c) vs. Dean Ambrose
WWE World Heavyweight Championship Match
Maybe it's because the renewal of Ambrose and Rollins' scintillating feud that was cut short yesteryear came as a pleasant surprise, maybe it's because we've only had two weeks of build-up to this particular match, or maybe it's because we know at least 300 other people will wind up interfering... but boy, it doesn't feel like this is real life!
During the days of The Shield we could only hope and dream of the day these two would headline a special event for the WWE Title, mano a mano. Rollins has been my personal favorite for a while now. Ambrose has been deserving of a main event spot - especially against Rollins - for just as long.  I feel like I'll only be "ready" for this once it's over and I'm able to look back on it as a whole.
None of that really matters, though, because it will be the shock of the summer if Ambrose actually manages to wrench the big one from his former partner's calculated grip. Rollins is the "beatable champion" we've seen so many times in professional wrestling, and there may well be moments where Ambrose has the cover but there's no referee to be found... but even 50 Roman Reigns clones at ringside wouldn't help me believe that Rollins won't hold on to his prize for at least several more months. Or, of course, maybe Roman turns on his friend Dean. I would disagree that this is the time for such a turn, but the deck seems to be dealing that hand. Remember, Roman and Dean are friends. They're friends, guys. Did Michael Cole mention they're friends?
Ambrose and Reigns can then fight over Money in the Bank (Reigns betrayal or no), for which Ambrose would make an ideal custodian. My money, however, is on Reigns. An explosive cash-in could do wonders in getting Reigns over as either a heel or a face. In fact, a wise route here may be a title rematch at the Money in the Bank event, leaving Ambrose fans less reason to boo a Reigns briefcase grab.
Winner: Seth Rollins


The Best Films of 2015 (Letterboxd Link)


WWE Fastlane: The Roman Reigns Problem

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We've heard it a thousand times or more by now: Roman Reigns isn't ready. The former enforcer of The Shield and foremost contemporary of a Samoan wrestling dynasty is just too green to headline the grandest stage of them all - WrestleMania.

Of course, many of us were singing a different tune last year. Reigns was still with his already legendary stable, plowing through the ropes in a clinch and hitting energetic power moves - including one of wrestling's most beautiful spears - to save the day. It couldn't have been more apparent, however, that a returning Batista had been hand-picked to win the Royal Rumble and main event the big one.

The infamously poor reception Batista received upon his victory can, among other reasons, be chalked up to the fact that we all saw it coming at least a month out. The reason we were thrilled Reigns made it to the final two against The Animal is because it was unexpected. It was fresh. Plus, we had been in Reigns' corner since his impressive coming out party at the prior Survivor Series. There would surely have been backlash due to the relatively limited moveset Reigns has exhibited on television, but in the moment it was instantly exciting.

What a difference a year makes. Roman Reigns has won the Royal Rumble in questionable fashion, and we're not happy. Large contributors to this unrest are arguably the rumors that swirled all the way back to last year's WrestleMania - that Reigns had already been selected to headline in 2015. WWE has had an issue with telegraphing several months of television with the often predictable results of the Royal Rumble event, but here we all but knew for sure who would challenging whom for the world title much farther in advance. This also exhibits WWE's stubbornness, seeing as they are pushing forth with their selection despite Reigns' current and well-documented struggle to become a believable character.

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Some apologists have demanded Reigns' monster push be seen as a positive, as it further indicates John Cena's more than a decade on top is waning. To that, the response is simple: like him or not, Cena paid his dues, earned his spot organically, and hasn't relented. Reigns may well be a hard worker, but the way we're seeing him is not as a new face. He is being sold more as a remolding of the same old thing, and one that can hardly cut a promo, at that. More to the point, Reigns is being positioned to usurp the throne of the man who defeated the Undertaker's undefeated streak at WrestleMania... yet he's far from the most talented or most over worker in the company. So, are we complaining even though WWE seems to be moving new talent to the top as opposed to continuing the era of the Cenation? Yes! Yes! Yes!

Another argument in favor of Reigns is the ever-present concept that WWE works hardest to appeal to casual fans. We hardcore viewers will always be there, where channel-surfing casuals can be roped in by a good-looking guy like Reigns leaping through the air to deliver his Superman Punch. Speaking personally, however, there is not a single casual fan I know who does not root for Daniel Bryan. People I never thought would be interested in professional wrestling have tuned in just to see if Bryan wins. My own Cena-loving five-year-old daughter runs around, thrusting her fingers in the air and exclaiming "Yes" every time Bryan is on screen. Viewers of E!'s "Total Divas" even love the guy! Yet, two years in a row now, WWE has missed the Bryan boat and had to scramble to appease the American Dragon's fanbase. And anyone who doesn't believe Bryan vs. Brock Lesnar would be a believable contest, good ol' Jim Ross retorted best on his podcast: "Maybe you've never been beat up by someone smaller than you." I would add it's also possible you haven't heard of the time Eddie Guerrero defeated Brock Lesnar for the world title. David vs. Goliath is almost always a compelling story.

I can't say Bryan's return from injury has been botched, per se, seeing as it has made a Bryan fan of me (I was not a member of the "Yes Movement" in 2014, even going as far as to say the "Occupy Raw" segment was one of the worst Raw segments I'd ever seen), but it cannot be denied that Bryan's lack of significance in the Royal Rumble is also a contributing factor to this Roman Reigns problem. Yet again, the situation recalls last year's debacle when Bryan was not in the Rumble at all. According to reports, Bryan himself requested to be a part of SmackDown upon the show's return to Thursday nights, but would it not have prevented much of this mess had Bryan returned after the Rumble? Perhaps he could even have been a surprise at Fastlane a la Sting at Survivor Series to drive the idea that anything can happen at WWE specials (it is another free month for new subscribers, after all). And with that idea, fantasy booking time is over for now, I promise.

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So now we have Bryan - who was never defeated to lose his title - and Royal Rumble winner Reigns facing off at the inaugural Fastlane to determine who will face Lesnar for his title in the WrestleMania main event. It is difficult to envision a scenario in which Reigns does not go on to face Lesnar, whether it be one on one or a triple threat with Bryan due to some kind of no contest on Sunday. At this point, despite everything, I say just run with Reigns, and let Bryan shake his hand. Inserting Bryan at the last minute for a second year in a row could be difficult to stomach depending how it's sold. This new Bryan fan would rather wait to see it done properly rather than rushed. Give the man in his own match for now, whatever that may be.

On one hand, I'm sure WWE is enjoying the controversy as it brings attention to their brand. On the other, it makes the brand seem dull and out of touch, particularly when the "developmental" NXT is consistently showing it up with flying colors. It just goes back to WWE needing to listen to its fans, instead of playing their own game and adjusting crowd audio later.