The outcome of the Elimination Chamber match to determine Becky Lynch's opponent for WrestleMania 36 was not in any doubt from the time it was announced, but the method by which Shayna Baszler secured that Raw women's championship match was still a matter of debate.
In defiance of any other story going on with the five other participants in the match, Baszler tore through all of her opponents in the main event of Elimination Chamber. The only hint of resistance along the way came from Asuka, who was the fifth and final victim of Baszler's dominance on Sunday night.
The match started with Natalya and Ruby Riott. Natalya took the edge early, raking Riott's face along the chain link of the fence and then locking in a sharpshooter. That changed in hurry when Riott flipped out of the submission and sent Nattie head-first into the plexiglass of the pod. Riott then utilized the cage for a creative attack, dropping into a full cannonball position and dropping down onto Natalya.
Riott held the edge until she ended up on Natalya's shoulder's in an electric chair position and dropped back-first into the cage.
Sarah Logan was the first to come out of a pod, and she promptly kicked Natalya into the side of Liv Morgan's pod. Riott and Logan climbed up and battled atop that same pod, until Natalya intervened and powerbombed Riott. Logan hit a flying crossbody onto both of her opponents and left all three women laying on the mat.
Action spilled back into the ring and they brawled into a tower of doom position, with Natalya powerbombing Logan as Logan superplexed Riott. Then the countdown clock hit, and Baszler was on the attack.
She tore a path through everyone, hitting both Logan and Riott with a double underhook suplex taken up to her shoulders, then spun to the ground, followed by a knee and a chokeout, in that order, to quickly score the first two eliminations of the match.
Sarah Logan and Ruby Riott were eliminated.
With the ring cleared out, Riott got to work on Natalya, battering her within one of the pods and utilizing the attached door as a weapon, repeatedly crashing it into Natalya's torso. Baszler locked on the Kirofuda Clutch for a third time and scored a third elimination in less than three minutes.
Natalya was eliminated.
Baszler spent several minutes gloating in the middle of the ring, taunting both Asuka and Liv Morgan. Morgan was released from the pod, and as she fought, Baszler got her into a power bomb position and swung her head-first into the cage, and then into the side of a pod. As Morgan tried to mount a comeback, Baszler clotheslined her and then hit a running knee into the corner. Baszler stared down Asuka, who began shouting at her in Japanese, and while Baszler locked eyes with Asuka, she climbed to the top rope and lifted Morgan off her feet with yet another Kirofuda Clutch.
Morgan passed out, and Baszler made it four straight eliminations.
Liv Morgan was eliminated.
For no real discernible reason, the match was left in purgatory for several minutes again before Asuka's pod was opened, with the crowd booing loudly, until Asuka was finally released into the cage.
Baszler looked vulnerable for the first time in the match after a hip attack and a series of kicks. Baszler tripped Asuka, though, and as she held Asuka's wrist, Baszler laid in kicks to Asuka's chest. Asuka slipped out and returned the favor with a big kick of her own, and managed to slip on a Asuka Lock, briefly raising the hopes of the crowd.
Baszler slipped out once, only for Asuka to lock the move in again in the middle of the ring. Baszler rolled out of the ring to break up the attempt, and then sent Asuka into the chain link over and over again to both break the hold and take Asuka down.
Baszler went after the previously injured wrist of Asuka, which was heavily taped, and tried to lock in a fifth Kirofuda Clutch, only for Asuka to fight out. Basler went after the wrist again, set up the suplex-knee-Kirofuda Clutch combination and won the match.
Asuka was eliminated.
While one has to wonder if tearing down the rest of the Raw women's division outside Lynch will turn out to be the right call in the long-term, the WrestleMania match is set.
What's next: For Baszler, it's Lynch. For Asuka, it's finally time for her to pick her women's tag team titles back up and defend them with Kairi Sane. For the former Riott Squad and Natalya, it's anyone's guess, but the WrestleMania women's battle royal that will likely return to the card looms large as a possibility.
3-on-1 handicap match for the Intercontinental championship: Sami Zayn, Cesaro & Shinsuke Nakamura def. Braun Strowman (c)
Due to Sami Zayn's negotiating, Braun Strowman was forced to defend his Intercontinental Title against not just former champion Shinsuke Nakamura, but also Cesaro and wrestler-turned-mouthpiece-turned-wrestler Zayn.
Before the match, Zayn cut a backstage promo telling Nakamura and Cesaro to stand on the apron while Zayn gets his revenge and brings his own form of justice on Strowman. Unsurprisingly, Strowman didn't get his chance to finally lay his hands on Zayn at that point, or for most of the match.
Strowman dominated early, but the numbers game caught up with him as Zayn ultimately got his licks in on Strowman, the man who once deposited him into a dumpster. It was Zayn's first televised match since Dec. 27.
Strowman made the comeback, easily tossing Cesaro around the ring before handling Nakamura as well. Zayn tried to get a shot in from behind, but instead took off running. Strowman chased Zayn, running through his partners, before Zayn dove under the ring, allowing the trio to take control once again.
The tides turned again when the four returned to the ring, but Zayn again pulled a hit-and-run on Strowman, providing just enough of a distraction and hesitation for Nakamura and Cesaro to gain the advantage, send Strowman into the post and hit a redo of the Heullva Kick/double suplex combo.
Zayn, the legal man, got a quick cover and a shocking victory, making him the Intercontinental champion, his first main roster title, and second title reign in WWE, following a two-month reign as NXT champion more than five years ago.
What's next: What seemed like an inevitable Strowman victory into WrestleMania became a lot more interesting and definitely changed the title picture. With Zayn as the IC champion, a match involving the Artists' Collective, Strowman and maybe some others seem like a strong possibility. Possibly the ladder match on the card.
Raw tag team championships: The Street Profits (c) def. Seth Rollins & Murphy
The Street Profits reached the highest point of their careers when, with an assist of Kevin Owens, they defeated Seth Rollins and Murphy to win the Raw tag titles. At Elimination Chamber, Montez Ford and Angelo Dawkins -- arguably the most popular team on the brand right now -- looked to continue their winning ways.
Rollins and Murphy (with AOP with them at ringside) and the Street Profits traded advantages throughout the early portion of the match, but the tide shifted when Rollins targeted the left leg of Dawkins. That allowed him and Murphy to isolate Dawkins and keep pressing.
Ford soon got the tag and regained control for his team highlighted by a spike DDT onto Murphy and a somersault plancha to the outside onto both challengers. However, as Ford attempted to get back in the ring, AOP snagged him and tossed him into the barricade while the referee's back was turned.
The Viking Raiders' theme music hit and they stormed the ring to bring AOP to the back. We now had an even playing field, or so we thought.
Both teams got their licks in, perhaps most impressively when Rollins and Murphy executed simultaneous super kicks to Ford in mid air as he was attempting a springboard maneuver. A close call to a title change came when Rollins buckle bombed Ford into the corner as Murphy kicked him in the back of the head. Murphy followed that up with double knees from the top rope, but Dawkins broke up the ensuing pinfall attempt.
After an avalanche power bomb by Rollins onto the Street Profits, and his own partner, Owens entered the arena through the crowd, casually eating some popcorn. The distraction allowed Dawkins to run Rollins into the barricade and led to the champs launching Murphy into the barricade on the other side of the ring. A spine buster inside the ring and a Ford frog splash on Murphy finished the job for the Street Profits.
After the match, Owens caught Rollins with a stunner and dumped some popcorn on a fallen Murphy on his way up the ramp for good measure.
What's next: We're clearly on the road to a Rollins vs. Owens WrestleMania match, which has all the potential in the world to be a great one. As for the Street Profits, perhaps the AOP will step up in Rollins' place. The Viking Raiders will also probably be in the picture.
No disqualification match: Aleister Black def. AJ Styles
As a whole, AJ Styles versus Aleister Black never fully reached its potential, despite a few key spikes in excitement along the way. But the endgame ultimately washed away a lot of the bad taste of some puzzling oversights, as The Undertaker got involved, took care of all three members of The OC and allowed Black to pick up a signature win over Styles.
With a no-disqualification stipulation attached to the match, it was inevitable that Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson would get involved at some point. And while they hopped up onto the apron early for a distraction, their presence ringside throughout the match during stretches in which Styles was being brutalized dragged an otherwise good match down with its strain in believability.
Styles controlled the early stretches with a smug look on his face, but without so much as a nod or a word from Styles before or during the match, the second that Black gained an advantage, the stipulation should've inspired Gallows and Anderson to turn the tide immediately with no consequences attached. By simply having them run or walk out during a key stretch, or taken out early in the match, more attention could've been paid to two guys doing some fun things in and out of the ring.
As far as the match itself, Styles' main drive appeared to be taking Black's main weapon, the Black Mass kick, away from him. A few chop blocks and kendo stick shots to Black's left leg laid the groundwork all the way up to the point where Styles locked in a calf crusher late in the match. Black countered by using the same stick to press Styles' face into the mat and escape.
Styles hit a forearm and a brainbuster, which didn't get the job done, and Black ultimately got himself back into the match with some running knees and a springboard moonsault. The match started to pick up when a second moonsault attempt got caught by Styles, which put him in position to attempt a tombstone. A throat-slash to further invoke The Undertaker allowed Black to wriggle free, and eventually the action spilled to the outside.
A back-and-forth struggle ultimately set Black up to jump from the German announce table and hit a meteora through Styles and a folding table on the outside. As soon as Black looked to pick Styles up with his foot to attempt Black Mass, Gallows and Anderson finally intervened. Even though Gallows ate a kick, and Anderson a knee, it soon became a three-on-one barrage.
They hit Black with a Magic Killer, but as Gallows and Anderson held Black up for a phenomenal forearm from Styles, The Undertaker's familiar gong hit and the lights went out. When they came on, Undertaker had both Gallows and Anderson choked out on the ground, and then Undertaker caught Styles out of mid-air and chokeslammed him. The lights went out again, Undertaker disappeared, and with a brutal-looking Black Mass kick, Black picked up the pinfall victory.
What's next: While there has been some suggestion of a tag match that would get Black and The OC involved, the likeliest outcome for WrestleMania still seems to be Styles and The Undertaker going one-on-one. As for Black, how about a cross-branded effort against an emerging Daniel Bryan?
Elimination Chamber match for the SmackDown tag team championships: The Miz & John Morrison (c) def. Ziggler & Robert Roode, Heavy Machinery, Lucha House Party, The New Day, The Usos
What a match.
It all began with a renewal of one of the greatest tag team rivalries in WWE history, the New Day and Usos. The pair fought to a stalemate for the first five minutes then welcomed the Lucha House Party to the action. The pace quickened and Lince Dorado and Gran Metalik hit the first of their many high spots when first Dorado hit a crossbody off the top of the pod onto the Usos as Metallik hit a somersault splash on the New Day.
All three teams were down on the mat when Miz and Morrison, the defending champs, entered the match. They got near falls on all three opponents, each time with the partner breaking up the pin. Metallik got another big spot in, hitting a hurricanrana from the pod on Morrison, who was sitting on the top rope. The crowd reacted with the first "This is Awesome" chant of the match. There would be more.
Miz and Morrison and New Day both hit a pair of their signature moves, but again the pins were both broken up. A lull in the action brought in Heavy Machinery who cleaned house of all four teams. The timing of the match struggled momentarily as confusion ruled with Dorado making his way up the cage.
With the other wrestlers gathered in the middle of the ring, Dorado swung from the top of the cage into a shooting star press, taking down everyone except Tucker and Otis. Those two put Metallik in the Compactor and scored the first elimination.
Heavy Machinery stood alone as Dolph Ziggler and Robert Roode's time to enter the match came. The heels tried to hold their pod closed and were momentarily saved by Miz and Morrison, leading to a heel double team. Heavy Machinery overcame their opponents, and finally, Otis had his shot at Ziggler. With Ziggler lined up in front of his pod, the Showoff avoided Otis' charge and sent Otis through two layers of plexiglass to the floor, effectively taking him out of the match.
Tucker made a valiant solo effort, but was overwhelmed by Roode and Ziggler, leading to Heavy Machinery's elimination. The heels taunted Heavy Machinery on their way out, and ate a Trouble in Paradise and Big Ending from the New Day, then a pair of splashes off the pods from the Usos to meet their own demise.
The Usos and New Day double teamed Miz and Morrison, but after depositing them outside, turned on each other. Kofi got the advantage and went to the top of the pod for a diving crossbody attempt. But as he missed Miz and Morrison dove on top of Kofi for a quick three.
Miz and Morrison got the two-on-two portion of the match started by going for a pair of springboards, but ate a pair of superkicks from The Usos. Jimmy and Jey went up top for another pair of splashes. One connected, one ate Miz's knees, and both were only worth two counts.
The action really picked up for the end of the match. Miz had a figure four locked on Jimmy, while Morrison hit Starship Pain, but Jey broke up the pinfall attempt. Miz was able to get Jey rolled up with his legs on the rope, while Morrison got a sunset flip. The double pin proved too much and Miz and Morrison retained.
What's next: With Miz and Morrison facing challenges from both the New Day and Usos, a triple threat, or another multi-team match seems the most likely scenario for WrestleMania. But the underlying storyline of the New Day's mini-slump could also grow.
United States championship: Andrade (c) def. Humberto Carrillo
Sunday night's United States championship match between Andrade and Humberto Carrillo was their sixth televised one-on-one match since early December. And while Andrade walked away from the Elimination Chamber pay-per-view with a successful defense of his United States championship in an entertaining bout, the outcome did little to suggest their rivalry is coming to a close by any means.
From the start, it was a tale of two approaches -- Andrade's brute physicality contrasted with Carrillo's acrobatics. The agendas were made clear from how each of them came out of the gate; Andrade connected with a running back elbow just after the bell rang, and Carrillo made his first major splash with a double-jump flying headbutt to a standing Andrade.
As has been the case through much of their rivalry, the mats on the outside of the ring became a big part of the story of the match. Andrade teased pulling them up to expose the concrete floor once, before the action of the match dragged him away, and his business associate Zelina Vega later elected to do that work for herself later in the match.
Andrade's attempt at a hammerlock DDT was foiled by a back body drop, and after Carrillo hit a diving plancha over the top rope, the match went into overdrive. An exchange of roll-up attempts ultimately fed into Andrade taking advantage of a high-leverage position with a handful of tights to secure the pinfall victory.
What's next: Carrillo once again shined as the match went along, including an impressive hurricanrana off the top rope. But while fans are getting into his matches, Carrillo still seems to be having a hard time connecting with an audience on his own. That could well be traced back to very little work being done to establish who he is as a character and performer, outside the ties to his cousin Angel Garza in this rivalry.
A Fatal 4-Way between Andrade, Carrillo, Rey Mysterio and Angel Garza could do wonders for the three younger stars at WrestleMania.
Daniel Bryan def. Drew Gulak
This was not a match many expected to see heading into 2020, but it was most definitely a welcomed surprise. Throughout the past few weeks on SmackDown, Drew Gulak has been critiquing Daniel Bryan's wrestling skill set. As a result, the WWE universe was treated to a performance by two of the best in-ring technicians.
Gulak, in his hometown of Philadelphia, began with an admirable display of mat wrestling. A story of Gulak getting the better of Bryan, lending some potential truth to his claims of knowing Bryan's weaknesses, unfolded early on.
Bryan's attempts at gaining advantages were countered until both men took a nasty spill to the outside of the ring by way of Bryan suplexing Gulak from inside the ring to the outside.
Bryan built on that momentum as they returned inside the ring when he executed a beautiful dragon suplex. Gulak upped that effort with a release German suplex, and Bryan, whose injury history always causes concern, landed hard on the back of his head. Upon recovering, the comeback story began when Bryan reversed an Irish whip into the corner with his patented backflip/clothesline combo and unleashed some Yes kicks in the corner.
Gulak wasn't done, though. He connected with the move of the match when he hit a reserve suplex off the top rope and transitioned into a dragon sleeper. The only problem was that Bryan turned it into a Yes Lock. Gulak passed out and the match was over.
What's next: It remains to be seen where Bryan lands on the WrestleMania card. Perhaps an Intercontinental championship pursuit is in his future. Time will tell. As for Gulak, this effort cannot be ignored. He has earned a recurring spot on SmackDown.
Viking Raiders def. Zack Ryder & Curt Hawkins
In a kickoff show match with literally no build, two former Raw tag team champions clashed when the Viking Raiders defeated Zack Ryder & Curt Hawkins. This was the first time these two teams battled since the Oct. 21, 2019 episode of Raw.
Similar to that night, the Viking Raiders reigned supreme. Tonight's finish saw Ryder suffer the Viking Experience.