First up, Booker T came out to a nice pop to join the announce team, replacing Matt Striker (now in the weird position of only announcing PPV’s – I can think of a boomer-sooner who could do that!) Booker took a while to get in to the role, not really providing us with particularly entertaining or insightful commentary at first, but as the show continued, he grew in to it. I think if he has a role similar to the current one of Jerry Lawler, it’ll be a good acquisition.
This in many ways, and to much surprise, was probably Kelly Kelly’s show this week. She was in the opening segment of the show with Vickie Guerrero, who called her out, claimed that Kelly had cost ‘the uncrowned world champion’, Dolph Ziggler the World Heavyweight Championship. Who’d have thought it, but Kelly is starting to show some nuance in her character, standing up for herself against Vickie, who she suggested had been going through her stuff and ruining her personal life (something we’ve seen nothing of, but that needs to be followed up on to legitimize all this). Ziggler also seemed to wield some power here, threatening Kelly that she would only be around as long as they ‘needed her’, the intimation being that they booked her with Edge because she would definately lose. Kelly then slapped both Dolph and Vickie, showing more heart than usual, before LayCool came out to drop her. Luckily, Edge was close behind to make the save. At this point, I was hoping Drew McIntyre would come out to her aid to continue that storyline, but as you’ll see, that was done a little (perhaps too) subtly later on. Edge’s appearance and the ensuing stand-off was at least some nice, vivid build-up for the main event. A good segment. Again, who’dathunkit.
Corre members Heath Slater and Justin Gabriel, former tag champs with Nexus, took on current champs Santino and Vlad in an ok match, but one that ended quickly and abruptly with a 450 Splash. Looks like we have new #1 contenders.
Another big theme for the night was Elimination Chamber qualification. Vickie seemed to abuse her power somewhat by giving Ziggler a by straight to the PPV (but more on that later). The first match pitted Drew McIntyre against Kofi Kingston. This was a very good match between the two future stars, and unpredictable. McIntyre can be great at in-ring psychology, indeed being that thing that many aim at but not all achieve: seeming genuinely remorseless. Struggling somewhat to contain Kingston’s high-flying offense, McIntyre caught him outside, using Kofi’s momentum to drop him, on his ribs, on to the ring steps in a pretty cool spot. From then on, McIntyre concentrated on hurting Kofi, with moves like an awesome tilt-the-world gut buster. Kofi was staying alive though, until Alberto Del Rio was announced and appeared on the titantron. He did his trademark wink and distracted Kofi just enough to allow McIntyre to take out the IC champ’s leg and hit a Future Shock for the win. Very high-quality match for what it was. I was interested to see Del Rio’s involvement, as I would have expected more from him in relation to Edge. Maybe Kingston will be a side attraction for Del Rio in the mean time, which can only be good for Kingston.
Next up was another EC qualifier: Rey Mysterio against Jack Swagger. It’s a shame, but I really can’t remember much of this match. It was actually a good match, but they have faced each other many times in the last year, and this one followed a familiar pattern, of the huge Swagger having the upper hand over Rey Mysterio. The only part I can really remember is when Swagger was beating on Mysterio outside the ring, and he took the time to point at the Wrestlemania – that was a good job as these matches are a potential route to the main event, and that element deserved selling. The finish too was pretty good, with Mysterio kicking Swagger through his legs to his head. I maintain that this was a good match, but I guess that fact that it simply wasn’t memorable is something of a black mark.
Backstage we had Edge saying to Kelly Kelly that he didn’t want to lose his title in such an unfair match, insinuating – though politely – that, as Vickie hoped, Kelly would lose him the match. Kelly was understandably upset by this, but she also seemed affected by something else, notably comparing Edge to Drew McIntyre, perhaps suggesting that he is on her mind. It was difficult to define, but she was definitely acting a bit like a heel as she scolded the champion. I have to admit, this is one of the most interesting aspects of Smackdown to me currently.
Next up was Alberto Del Rio’s pinata celebration. For some reason Hornswoggle and Rosa Mendes came out first, just to throw out t-shirts … Anyway, Del Rio came out, ostensibly offering Hornswoggle a chance to hit the pinata. At first, he was suspicious, but he eventually attempted it, unfortunately hitting Del Rio with the stick, leading to an attack on the blindfolded ‘leprechaun’. This drew a lot of heat, and Kofi Kingston to rescue hornie and get some revenge on the Royal Rumble winner.
The next qualifier was Chavo Guerrero against Kane. Now, this was a very quick victory for Kane, but I would argue it wasn’t a squash. First off, trying to qualify for a world title shot doesn’t seem like a match you can feel squashed in really, and though Chavo lost quickly, he looked wily and strong against the Big Red Machine, sticking and running, and really troubling Kane, even nearly hitting his Frog Spash. Unfortunately for him, Kane caught him by the throat, Chokeslammed him and advanced. My hope is that this, and the Royal Rumble performance may be a sign that Chova might get treated a little better on TV from now on. I think he could have an awesome IC title feud!
The final qualifier pitted Wade Barrett against the Big Show. There was some nice enough back-and-forth here, but early on, the ref was taken down in the line of duty, allowing Corre to overwhelm Show, with Jackson clotheslining and slamming show, and helping Barrett pick up the win. After the match, Ezekiel said something nonsensical to Big Show in an embarrassing bit of mic work. It looks like he will be feuding with the Giant.
The main event had a … unique stipulation, so let me outline it for the confused: It was a mixed tag handicap match, with the usual mixed-tag rules (men can only wrestle men and ditto for women). Each team was wrestling for the world title, so if anyone from Edge’s team won, Edge would retain the title, and if anyone from Ziggler’s team won, he would win the title. Oh yeah, and the Spear was banned for Edge. The men had some time, but for the first time ever, Kelly Kelly being in the ring made for a better match, as yes, she was really defending the World Heavyweight Championship. That is compelling. Therefore, the women were rightly in the ring for the greater part of the match, with Edge looking, understandably, concerned, as LayCool put a beating on Kelly. Kelly did have some offense though, and showed more aggression than she ever has, beating Layla’s head off the mat outside the ring for instance, and when she was being dominated, she showed great resolve however, and though she couldn’t tag in Edge, she turned the match around, eluding a Michelle McCool kick which instead knocked Layla out before hitting her own (admittedly pretty shoddy) Spear on McCool to … retain the World Heavyweight Championship. What!? Now, this might draw a lot of snickering, but I thought it was actually not a bad match/stipulation. The suggestion wasn’t that Kelly deserved any real proximity to the title, but instead that she was probably the last person you would want wrestling to retain your title, and that’s where the sense of jeopardy came from. Following the match, a furious Vickie entered the ring and fired Kelly. Kelly was pretty good at acting devastated, but I can’t see her being away for too long – her Drew McIntyre story is compelling, and she’s incredibly popular, not to mention showing a lot of improvement of late. Vickie then informed Edge that next week, Dolph would have another shot at his title, this time with herself as guest referee, before laughing a little over-maniacally. This was good, it reminded me of the kid of abuses of power that create real emotion and interesting storylines that bleed in to the atmosphere of the matches as there’s a constant sense of jeopardy. Saying that, i’m sure Edge will be retaining his title, but it’s going to be hard to write when Vickie is the guest ref. Maybe she’ll get injured and a normal ref will count the pinfall, maybe she’ll be fired for her abuse of power (with Kelly Kelly also being allowed to return). Whatever happens, it certainly set up a lot of interest in next week’s episode.