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411 Wrestling Fact or Fiction: Was Shayna Baszler the Right Call to Win at Elimination Chamber?

March 13, 2020 | Posted by Jake Chambers
Shayna Baszler WWE Elimination Chamber

Welcome back to the 411 Fact or Fiction – Wrestling Edition, I’m your host, Jake Chambers. Every week, Fact or Fiction poses statements on pro-wrestling history, culture and current events and then challenges writers to explain why they believe each statement is totally factual or completely fiction. No middle ground will be tolerated!

This week’s guest is: Mike Chin.

I’ve called Mike back from retirement to help me discuss the fallout from the Elimination Chamber PPV and other tidbits on the precarious Road to Wrestlemania.

One of my all time favs, Mike is known for his literary style, and brilliant takes on how pro-wrestling resonates with culture and life. This doesn’t happen by accident, as Mike has written extensively on pro-wrestling outside of 411, both academically and in fiction.

In fact, he just put out a fantastic new collection of wrestling-related fiction that everyone reading this right now should do themselves a favour and check out!

Meanwhile, let Mike now win you over with his takes on the weekend that was in pro-wrestling news.

Statement #1: Shayna Baszler was the right call to face Becky Lynch at Wrestlemania.

Mike Chin: FACT – I’d suggest that Ronda Rousey would have been the best call for storytelling, and that Sasha Banks would have been the best call for match quality. I’m assuming Rousey wasn’t available to WWE at this point, or else they’re saving that for later in the future; meanwhile Banks is not currently positioned to fit this spot all that well at all. So, with the current roster and particularly the stories told dating back to the build to Survivor Series, Baszler is the one. She’s still a fresh face on the main roster, she has proven she can work very good matches, and the build should be fun given the tough persona she can project on the mic.

Jake Chambers: FICTION – The WWE taking bringing up two NXT wrestlers with to face Becky and Charlotte at Wrestlemania is a weird move if you ask me. Wrestlemania is supposed to be the place for the biggest matches possible, not debuts on this kind of stage. I realize it’s not going to be the “popular” fanboy opinion, but clearly the best match they could have put together here is Becky vs. Charlotte, as they are the two biggest stars on the women’s roster, with Charlotte being the clear best main event level female performer arguably in the history of the WWE. The argument against this match would be something like “no one wants to see that match” or Charlotte is being too pushed, but that’s more of a failure by the WWE to writer diverse compelling stories featuring their main event talent. Having Hogan/Andre, Bret/Yoko, Austin/Rock, HBK/’Taker repeat at multiple Manias was prudent and creative classic WWE taking advantage of wrestlers in their prime. Meanwhile, Shayna being called in to substitute for Rousey is a short-sighted move that robs us of a Wrestlemania match that lives up to the tradition of the event.

Statement #2: Daniel Bryan still has “it”.

Mike Chin: FACT – When I was watching Daniel Bryan vs. Drew Gulak at Elimination Chamber, I had a moment to think of how far Bryan had fallen from going in to the previous year’s Chamber PPV as the reigning WWE Champion. However, Bryan vs. Gulak was not only good, but affirmed a part of what makes Bryan so likable in working competitive matches that showcase lower profile talents. Bryan remains my pick for the single best in ring worker WWE has on its full time roster. I’d suggest that his work, mere months ago, opposite Bray Wyatt confirms that he can still rally fan support at the main event level, too. Sure, he’s nowhere near as hot as he was six years ago, but put the proper story and level of focus behind him, and I expect he could thrive at the top of the card again.

Jake Chambers: FICTION – And I’m saying this as someone who considers Daniel Bryan in my all-time top five, but when you’ve spent two years wrestling B-level competition after a two-year “retirement”, you could see in that Drew Gulak match that, while Bryan is still a great wrestler, he no longer has “it”. When I refer to “it”, it’s not just having a good PPV opener against a guy who’s never been in that position before, which is not something particularly unique, but having that special, one-of-a-kind ability to whip an audience into a frenzy by outshining main event level talent. Bryan was considered one of the greatest ever when he was working consistently against the best wrestlers in epic matches. The WWE no longer puts him in this position, and if you look at it within Bryan’s full body of work, the spirit of that Gulak match showed some issues with timing, crowd response and lethargy that you wouldn’t have seen in matches with McGuiness, Strong, Punk or Cena back when it was undeniable that Bryan had the “it” that made him the unquestionable best in the world.

Statement #3: The Elimination Chamber is a dumb gimmick.

Mike Chin: FACT – On a literal level, I think it’s a reasonable gimmick match concept, and I don’t have much against it. However, I think the spirit of the question is getting more so at the use of the Chamber and WWE going back to building an annual PPV around it. As a rule, I’m against annual gimmick matches with the exceptions of the Royal Rumble and Money in the Bank with well-defined, objective stakes (OK, Survivor Series elimination tag matches, too, but that’s more for nostalgia’s sake than out of any logical argument). I believe that gimmick matches are best served up when they make organic sense. Hell in a Cell is the most clean cut example of demanding a blood feud and more often feeling contrived now that WWE has them every fall; TLC is comparably bad in this same vein. The Elimination Chamber walks a line, because it has enough participants that it can make sense as an institution, and does have some tradition of happening in WrestleMania season. However, I’d be much more on board with a Chamber match that arises organically when their six legitimate contenders for something, as opposed to the Lucha House Party (for as talented as they are) flying around in a match they have zero chance of winning, or Sarah Logan filling a pod when it’s all but unimaginable WWE would book her to challenge Becky Lynch at WrestleMania. I do appreciate WWE branching out to have not just men’s world title contenders featured in the Elimination Chamber, but it nonetheless reeks of WWE following the established gimmick of the PPV rather than telling an organic story that justifies the match, which I will call dumb.

Jake Chambers: FACT – I think we saw in the examples this past weekend why the gimmick has flaws. Firstly, the “surprise” order of entrants is pointless when you’ve had a match to determine the last spot, like in the tag team match. Since there’s only four entrants, the last one was always a dud, but this was worse because it made half of them a non-surprise. On top of that, why are there staggered entrances anyways? In the Wargames match, the entrances are staggered because the match doesn’t officially start until all teams are in the ring, which is then an “I Quit” match. Now that makes sense, because you are wearing your opponents down throughout the Wargames, while they have time to recover still before the ending, and the team with the advantage may be able to win easier because of it. I can’t logically wrap my head around the need for the pods or the staggered entrances in an Elimination Chamber, especially when anyone can be eliminated at any time.

Speaking of eliminations, when someone is defeated the giant cage door has to be opened when someone loses, defeating the traditional and logical purpose of a cage match in professional wrestling. And then we saw the worst case scenario play out in the women’s Elimination Chamber match at last weekend’s PPV, and in the main event no less. If everyone is eliminated between the five-minute staggered entrances, there’s nothing to do. Now, maybe this is fun if you’ve got legendary personalities like The Rock on the inside and Stone Cold in a pod (never happened, of course), but when you’ve got a situation like Sunday, where you’re putting minutes of dead main event time on the shoulders of someone with no experience in this position, with the personality of a Steve Blackman, the whole concept stands out as dopey.

Fact or Fiction – Quick Hits
– one sentence is all you need for this FoF lightning round!

1. Either the WWE or Universal Championship should always be defended on a PPV.

Mike Chin: FICTION – I would say fact to “usually,” but I do feel there are exceptions if a world champion is in a tag match scenario, or if there’s a featured gimmick match like the Royal Rumble or Money in the Bank with the importance to justify both world champions sitting out.

Jake Chambers: FACT – The greatest pro-wrestling champions need to prove it every night, anything less is

2. Orange Cassidy will eventually become AEW Champion.

Mike Chin: FICTION – I think the guy’s great in his role and I’d never say never, but at present I struggle to imagine him evolving into a guy who could work in that top spot.

Jake Chambers: FACT – Wouldn’t have thought so at first, but AEW might have grown cool enough to pull this off.

3. Kazuchika Okada was the best wrestler of the past decade.

Mike Chin: FICTION – If I could say pass, I would; from what I’ve seen and what I understand, he should certainly be in the conversation, but I don’t watch enough Japanese wrestling to have an educated opinion on how he might compare to choices like Daniel Bryan or AJ Styles, whom I’m inclined to feel more comfortable picking.

Jake Chambers: FACT – The best years of guys like Bryan, Styles, Cena and Tanahashi bleed over too much into the previous decade, but this one will historically belong to Okada.

¡SWITCH!

Statement #4: This is the correct list of the Top 7 Wrestlers with Numbers in Their Name.

7. Seven
6. Damian 666
5. One Man Gang
4. 911
3. Scotty 2 Hotty
2. 2 Cold Scorpio
1. 123 Kid / Syxx

Jake Chambers: FACT – Tried to come up with a unique list for former weekly Top 7-er Mike here, and there were definitely more Number in the Name wrestlers than I thought, especially if you wanted to count nicknames like “The One” Billy Gunn, “Perfect 10” Tye Dillinger, or “The Magnificent One” Don Muraco. But I opted to go with numbers embedded in the actual name. And I figure the 123 Kid has got to be the best, right? Even if you only count his WWF years (and those awkward WCW ones if you want), is he better than 2 Cold? It’s close, but I’d say yeah. 911 might be high, but that depends on your fondness for those early ECW “extreme” years, and what a presence he had in the arena at the time, despite not being much of a quote/unquote wrestler. And, of course, Seven had to be #7 even if he never really wrestled a proper match.

Mike Chin: FICTION – I appreciate the throwback to my 411mania roots. One of the my central tenets in writing those lists for nearly five years was to avoid topics with a scope too broad for me to possibly get it right. Mind you, I still wound up overshooting on a number of occasions, but there is a reason why the latter part of my tenure erred toward lists that were bound to a specific promotion (most often WWE) or explicitly rooted in personal opinion. Anyway, for this one, I’d suggest that the omission of Mr. Wrestling 2 immediately calls the list into serious question, besides the plethora of international stars with one or two (or uno or dos) in their names whom I’d struggle to properly rank.

Statement #5: The WWE has abandoned the concept of storytelling.

Jake Chambers: FACT – Ever since the great enlightenment of pro-wrestling, the WWF/E has been using D-movie level drama to wink at the audience in acknowledgement that this is all for fun, which is was since we were all mostly kids back then. Then it became a fanboy rallying call to champion pro-wrestling at this art form that embeds classical storytelling into ridiculous play fighting. But as we’ve all evolved in the boomer arc from liberals to conservatives, the current mark of legitimacy for your fandom is analyzing how WWE lines up narrative pieces to maximize business profits, like you’re securing your stock portfolio. The WWE has thus had to shred the authentic storytelling that is needed to appeal to a culturally-specific audience, and make everything as generic as possible to draw in a global audience.

Therefore, an actual storyline between, say, Drew McIntyre and Brock Lesnar isn’t needed for Wrestlemania, you just win a #1 contenders match and demand your match. There are some arbitrary story-esque components, but that’s most lip service for fans still holing out hope that the WWE is more than sign pointing and boring taunts. Maybe something like the Edge/Orton rivalry makes you feel like they’re putting some effort into storytelling, but under scrutiny you’ll see that’s mostly short term logic and narrative convenience. The WWE at this point is more like a sport now than any time pre-enlightenment, only sadly rather than it ever being compelling playoff type sport, it mostly feels like the first half of the inconsequential NBA season with Wrestlemania being the All-Star Game.  

Mike Chin: FICTION –  I get the criticism of WWE storytelling, and I won’t argue that WWE is anywhere near its creative peak or most diligent about consistent storytelling nowadays. I would, however, argue that most of the established programs heading into WrestleMania have storylines. For McIntyre and Lesnar it’s the underappreciated challenger coming up to take what’s his against the entitled champion. For Reigns and Lesnar there’s a young lion vs. old lion, poor man’s Rock vs. Cena vibe. Sure, these are broad strokes, but I’d argue that the Orton vs. Edge angle reinforces that WWE can build a story, particularly within the limitations of part time schedules and keeping guys physically apart. I would concede that the company is currently at one of its weakest points in booking continuous stories for full time talents who are actually present week in and week out.

Thanks again to Mike Chin for making a return to the 411 pages to join me this week. Be sure to follow him on Twitter and check out his new mini-podcast series on wrestling.

Even though he no longer writes here on a regular basis, you can still keep up with the goings on of Mike Chin his at his website and blog. And don’t forget that he has recently released The Long Way Home, an excellent collection of stories about professional wrestling. If you remember and loved his work here, then you owe it to yourself to check this book out!

Book order linkhttps://www.amazon.com/LONG-WAY-HOME-STORIES/dp/

Next week, we’ll have another special edition where I will announce the winners of the semi-final matches in the 411mania Fact or Fiction Invitational Road to Wrestlemania tournament and then in two weeks, brace yourselves for the tournament finals!