Sometimes what seems inevitable is that way for a reason. Over the past three years, the lingering question of when Roman Reigns would get a proper chance to revisit the WrestleMania 31 main event against Brock Lesnar hung over the WWE.
Even as a growingly vocal portion of the WWE universe grew louder and louder in resistance of such a main event for WrestleMania 34, it seemed all but written in the stars for Reigns. More than a year without a world title and on the outskirts of the spotlight. Runs with the United States and Intercontinental championships. It was all building up to Sunday's men's Elimination Chamber match, and he won in the most definitive way imaginable -- by single-handedly dispatching Braun Strowman to earn the final elimination and shot at Lesnar and the Universal championship in New Orleans.
Though Reigns got the win, Strowman had a performance to remember in his own right. He eliminated each of the five superstars leading up to his showdown with Reigns, and even after a series of Superman punches and two spears finished him off, Strowman quickly returned to his feet, hit a power slam on Reigns and sent Reigns through the plexiglass wall of one of the chamber's pods.
Destiny seemingly has Reigns and Lesnar destined to go one-on-one. But for those in total opposition to this main event pairing, five eliminations, more than a half-dozen power slams and the final word over Reigns at least leaves the door open a crack for Strowman to find his way in -- especially because there's no other clear path to WrestleMania for Strowman to take. Raw will do a lot to clear things up, but with six weeks to go until WrestleMania 34, there's plenty that can happen.
As for the match itself, even though it came down to Reigns and Strowman as many expected going in, everyone involved had a few moments of their own to shine. Elias, guaranteed to enter last, serenaded the crowd from the middle of the ring for a few minutes until his musical equal, Strowman, emerged from backstage and sent Elias retreating into his pod in order to escape any pre-match damage. Strowman tapped the glass playfully, promising destruction to come, and entered his own pod to wait for his chance to get into the match.
John Cena was the next one out, and Michael Cole made a point of mentioning Cena standing at 16 world championships -- tied for the all-time record with the birthday-celebrating Ric Flair -- and that beating Lesnar at WrestleMania 34 would be an appropriate way to break the record. Reigns filled the final pod, setting it up to be Finn Balor vs. Seth Rollins vs. The Miz to start the men's Elimination Chamber match.
Miz tried to ally with Rollins against Balor, but failed to get through. Then Miz tried to ally with Balor, even throwing up the "too sweet," but similarly failed. All it did was line Rollins and Balor up as a unifying force that lasted all of 15 seconds until Miz was tossed out and Rollins went for a sneak-attack roll-up. Balor and Rollins battled back and forth and took turns hitting or avoiding Miz to keep him out of play, settling into a rather slow pace to start the match.
Rollins got the first significant offense to speak of with his vertical suplex/Falcon Arrow combination, but Rollins' stomp attempt and Miz's skull-crushing finale try both went awry. Rollin nailed a double blockbuster and got two-counts on both Miz and Balor, but by then it was time for Cena to enter the match.
Rollins and Cena jawed in the middle of the ring and resulted in shoves back and forth. Ultimately, Rollins and Miz fell victims to a double five-knuckle shuffle. Offense went back and forth four ways as Cena and Balor paired off, as did Rollins and Miz, leading to synchronized superpexes from opposite corners.
The clock hit zero and all four men were prone on the ground as Reigns slowly stalked out of his pod to a chorus of boos from the Las Vegas crowd. Reigns, who has history with all four of the men he stepped into the ring with, knocked down everyone else before staring eye-to-eye with Rollins. Miz spoiled the moment and grabbed the upper hand. With all four of his opponents on their knees, he hit "Yes" kicks (or "it" kicks, if you prefer) on all four men in a circle until his final kick predictably missed Reigns and Miz paid with a power bomb.
Reigns delivered power bombs and Samoan drops to all of his opponents, in fact, but Strowman loomed menacingly in the shadows -- ready to strike the moment his pod opened up. As Reigns briefly set up for a Superman punch, the countdown clock hit and Strowman emerged. He immediately threw both Reigns and Rollins into the steel chains.
Miz retreated into a corner and everyone else paid the price, with each and every combatant "getting these hands" from Strowman. Even as Cena and Rollins tried to team up for a double suplex, Strowman turned it around and flipped them both over. Strowman flung Balor into Reigns, and then chased Miz all the way up to the top of one of the Chamber pods. Strowman banged Miz's head off of one of the plexiglass panels above the ring a half-dozen times, and then flung Miz from the top of the pod onto all four other men down below.
Strowman clubbed everyone in his path, and then delivered a leisurely paced running power slam to Miz to earn the first elimination of the match. As Miz slowly rolled out, the final countdown clock ticked to 0 and Elias defiantly stayed in his pod. While he grabbed Strowman's attention, the other four men in the match ganged up and gave Strowman a taste of his own medicine. A super-Shield power bomb was all they could do to derail Strowman's momentum, and it all led up to all four men trying to roll him up at once with all of their collective body weight.
- WWE (@WWE) February 26, 2018
Even with all four men on top of him, a kickout sent everyone else flying through the air. Cena's Attitude Adjustment wasn't good enough, nor was a spear, nor a stomp, nor a Coup de Grace -- but that combination left Strowman uncharacteristically in a heap outside of the ring for some time.
Cena hit an AA on Reigns, and everyone else collided in the middle of the ring to leave five guys on the ground. Elias tried to pin everybody, but he failed on all counts. Elias even hit a flying top rope elbow on Rollins for a two count, followed by an Electric Chair transition into a powerbomb on Reigns to get another two-count -- one of his best in-ring moments to date -- but then he tried to hit the same move on Strowman.
That effort failed miserably, and Elias ate a running power slam to become Strowman's second victim. Strowman set his sights on Reigns and got him up for a power slam, too, but each of the remaining men in the match flew from the top rope. Cena drew the short straw going last, got caught, and then another power slam eliminated Cena from the match.
Balor stood up to Strowman with speed and kicks, and really got to show off some of the rarely used elements in his repertoire. Even as Strowman caught Balor in a choke-slam position from the top rope, Balor escaped the running power slam and hit a Coup de Grace to the back of Strowman's head -- the closest anyone would get to eliminating Strowman until the end.
Rollins and Balor went to war with Reigns and Strowman out of commission, with Balor pulling out the 1916 (Bloody Sunday) on Rollins to great effect. Balor then hit the low dropkick and a Coup de Grace on Reigns -- putting the eventual winner in peril -- but Strowman brought the Balor train to an abrupt stop and locked up his fourth straight elimination with yet another power slam -- inadvertently saving Reigns in the process.
Rollins and Reigns tried to unite to defeat Strowman, but it would be a short-lived alliance. They slammed him into the chains over and over again, but Rollins eventually turned on Reigns to get revenge for his Royal Rumble betrayal. Rollins went for his stomp, missed, but hit a buckle bomb. Reigns' momentum allowed him to hit a Superman punch, but Rollins was able to get up first. Strowman chased Rollins part-ways up the cage, but Reigns caught Strowman over his shoulders and hit a sloppy Samoan drop.
Rollins, on top of the pod, hit a massive frog splash from way up on the pod -- a spot that went far less well when Rob Van Dam tried it -- but only got two on Strowman.
Reigns and Rollins briefly got back on the same page, but Strowman dropkicked Reigns out of the ring. Rollins super-kicked Strowman twice, which put him down to a knee, but as he ran for the stomp, Strowman basically hit a tilt-a-whirl power slam and locked up his fifth straight elimination.
Strowman called out to Reigns, asking him to "get these hands," and the crowd chanted along in time. Strowman drove Reigns out to the outside of the ring, but this part of the match was all about Reigns and building him up to his utmost. Reigns brought Strowman down back first onto the top rope, and then Reigns flew over the top rope to the outside -- crashing into Strowman and the cage. Strowman charged toward Reigns, missed, and flew through one of the plexiglass pods.
It was all very simple from that point. A Superman punch on the outside. A Superman punch on the inside. Strowman caught Reigns as he first attempted a Spear, but that only allowed for Reigns to hit an elevated Superman punch. Two spears later, Reigns punched his ticket to WrestleMania.
Strowman took his revenge, and he was the last man standing as the pay-per-view went off the air. Whether that will ultimately lead to something big at WrestleMania, or merely a consolation prize, Strowman did everything he could over the last calendar year to maximize on every opportunity he was given.
But sometimes, you can't fight fate.