As the final sigh from the despondent audience evaporated into the rafters of the Bell Centre and the city of Montreal returned to its all-too-familiar sense of sporting disappointment, the events of WWE’s Elimination Chamber main event meanwhile fired up the world of wrestling discussion. From top to bottom, podcasters and writers across the entire spectrum had takes, thought pieces, analysis, and rants trying to make sense of the decision to have Sami Zayn lose.

When a shadow so large looms over an event, it is not surprising that another highly questionable booking faux pas failed to capture the mindset of fans and remains just as spurious.

That booking decision was that Rhea Ripley did not win her match. And the fact she didn’t is not only shocking, but another symptom of WWE’s longest creative problem: getting in their own way.

Let’s take a step back, since the wind-up is essential to the pitch. Coming into Elimination Chamber, only two people on that card had a WrestleMania match already booked: Roman Reigns and Rhea Ripley. In Ripley’s case, it’s not just any match: A SmackDown Women’s Championship match was lined up for her since she secured a much-lauded victory at the Royal Rumble.

Rhea has arguably been one of the most popular acts on Monday Night Raw for months now. Her most recent run, whose embers were smoldering while tagging with Liv Morgan, was set ablaze when she joined the Judgment Day. Fearless, intimidating, enthralling, and provocative all at once, Rhea’s combination of natural attributes and spot-on presentation turned her into a fan favorite with crowd reactions to match.

She was the favorite to win the women’s Royal Rumble and did so in commanding fashion, to the delight of fans and observers of WWE. Perhaps some fans didn’t see their favorite outlast the field of 30, but outside some outliers her victory was well received. She unquestionably has the support. An upward trajectory to make the WrestleMania match hot seemed unquestionable.

Undeniable, dare I say.

Despite all these elements, Rhea Ripley lost her last big PLE match on her Road to WrestleMania.™ In a mixed tag match against Edge and Beth Phoenix, Rhea’s partner Finn Balor got pinned. She didn’t even factor in the finish.

“They protected her!” cried the fans earnestly. However, protecting wrestlers leads to diminishing returns, as protection means nothing if the wins aren’t there. But I digress, as this is not approaching the issue from the correct angle. The question stemming from Elimination Chamber isn’t whether she should have been protected, but rather why Rhea didn’t win the match for her team?

Rhea should have entered the fight to make mincemeat out of part-timer Beth Phoenix. Turn her into an example, an imprint meant to leave a message for Charlotte. It should have been a decisive, violent win. One where Rhea, who has long stood up to the men’s roster nose-to-nose, without fear, creating doubt in the mind of the guys she confronted whether or not they could take her, could have punked out Edge to fully drive home she had gone full beast mode. Charlotte would have had a serious and dangerous contender for her title.

Let’s take this a step forward, even: Why did Edge need to score the win? Why did Beth, a part-timer, need to be on the winning side? Couldn’t she have taken the pin and kept Edge protected? The path to concocting the finish to this match was overthought. The idea of needing to heat up hall of famer Edge over an up-and-coming star who is on a clear path for a big fight at the biggest wrestling show of the year, is truly baffling, yet so familiar. So frustratingly familiar.

Like someone more astute than I once said, WWE is the only wrestling promotion where someone gets hot and it becomes a problem for the company and you can almost see the deliberateness in these actions to ensure they don’t get another Sami or Becky Lynch.

Even in this era of new creative management, they seem incapable of creating a true fan favorite for management fears their popularity will derail plans. The almighty plans. The same ones that kept Sami from the big one, and Rhea from the rocket strap.

WWE can only get in their own way.

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