Having begun its life in 2002, the Elimination Chamber has since become one of the staple match types of World Wrestling Entertainment. Housing multiple competitors within an unforgiving steel structure, this elimination-style bout is among the most punishing in wrestling. Nonetheless, it has afforded many competitors great success in singles and, years down the road, tag team wrestling. On November 17, 20 years ago today, WWE held the first Elimination Chamber Match at Survivor Series 2002. To say that this was a historic match would be an understatement, but let’s take a deeper dive into what sparked a tradition of sorts for the biggest wrestling promotion in the world.
The First WWE Elimination Chamber Match
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“Who created the Elimination Chamber concept?”
On-screen, the Elimination Chamber was introduced by Eric Bischoff, who portrayed the General Manager of Raw at the time. Bischoff was driven to put on a better show than Raw’s counterpart program, SmackDown. Thus, “Eazy-E” brought the Elimination Chamber concept to viewers. The match type in question took inspiration from different match types, including Hell in a Cell and World Championship Wrestling’s War Games. Furthermore, this match would be contested under elimination rules, with a new competitor entering the match every few minutes. Competitors would be taken out of the match, one by one, until one was left standing.
While Bischoff was the on-screen pioneer of the match type in question, he wasn’t the behind-the-scenes mastermind. In a 2014 interview, Triple H claimed that he invented the Elimination Chamber concept. “I drew a square cage and put four other squares in the corners,” he told in said interview. “In typical WWE form, it was twice as big as I envisioned it and twice as elaborate.” Bischoff would later confirm Triple H’s statement. Chris Jericho offered his own sentiment in his autobiography, Undisputed: How to Become the World Champion in 1,372 Easy Steps. According to Jericho, Triple H petitioned for a War Games match, but due to its association with WCW, Vince McMahon rejected the idea, which brought rise to the Elimination Chamber concept.
“Who were the competitors in the first Elimination Chamber Match?”
As the main event of Survivor Series 2002, the Elimination Chamber Match saw the World Heavyweight Championship on the line. The reigning champion, Triple H, defended the title against Booker T, Rob Van Dam, Kane, Chris Jericho, and Shawn Michaels. The September prior, Eric Bischoff awarded Triple H the new world title, as Brock Lesnar served as WWE Champion on SmackDown. Triple H defended the belt successfully in the months that followed against such names as RVD, Bubba Ray Dudley, and Ric Flair. Additionally, Triple H had run-ins with his other Elimination Chamber opponents, including interfering in Kane’s Intercontinental Championship match against Jericho.
Arguably the most interesting part of the first Elimination Chamber, however, was the involvement of Michaels. “The Heartbreak Kid” made his in-ring return at SummerSlam the August prior, defeating Triple H in a brutal Street Fight. Post-match, Triple H attacked his former friend, forcing him to be stretchered out of the arena. However, this led to a newfound run in wrestling for Michaels, with Survivor Series being only his second match following his return. Most, if not all, eyes were on “HBK,” especially since he was laser-focused on “The Game” and, by proxy, his World Heavyweight Championship.
“Who won the first Elimination Chamber match at Survivor Series?”
As history would dictate, it was Shawn Michaels, who entered the Elimination Chamber last, that emerged victorious. The match began with World Heavyweight Champion Triple H taking on Rob Van Dam, who served as the match’s perennial high flyer. From there, Chris Jericho, Booker T, and Kane filed in, each serving a unique role in the match. Jericho was the in-ring all-rounder, Booker T boasted explosive offense and charisma, and Kane was the imposing powerhouse. Meanwhile, the returning veteran, Michaels, was chomping at the bit and waiting for his opportunity.
Toward the end of the match, it seemed that Michaels was on the proverbial ropes and Triple H was about to retain the World Heavyweight Championship. However, Michaels dug deep, showing that while he may have still been rusty, his heart was unbeatable. He connected with a Sweet Chin Music to the jaw of Triple H, covering him for the pinfall victory. At Survivor Series, Michaels captured the World Heavyweight Championship, which proved to be his final singles title victory before his retirement in 2010.
“What became of the Elimination Chamber competitors?”
Shawn Michaels captured the World Heavyweight Championship, but his reign was a short one. He held the title for only 28 days, dropping it back to Triple H in a Three Stages of Hell Match at Armageddon in December. However, the following months would prove invaluable for “The Heartbreak Kid,” especially as he faced off against Chris Jericho at WrestleMania XIX, Ric Flair at Bad Blood, and Randy Orton at Unforgiven, just to name a few examples. Simply put, Michaels had something to prove and his body was up for the task.
Rob Van Dam and Booker T dabbled in different championship scenes in the months that followed, the most infamous example being Booker’s world title match loss to Triple H at WrestleMania XIX; the 5x WCW World Heavyweight Champion wouldn’t capture another world title until 2006 as King Booker. Ironically enough, it was in 2006 when RVD finally won the WWE Heavyweight Championship, cashing in his Money in the Bank opportunity at ECW One Night Stand against John Cena at the Hammerstein Ballroom. However, “The Whole Dam Show’s” time at the top was cut short when his real-life arrest and company suspension forced WWE to pivot and adjust their plans.
Prior to Survivor Series, Kane was the focal point of the infamous “Katie Vick” storyline. In short, Triple H accused Kane of heinous activity with a woman who rejected “The Big Red Machine’s” romantic advances. This would eventually lead to Kane facing Triple H in a Mask vs. Title Match on the June 23, 2003 edition of Raw; Kane lost, which forced him to unmask and show his face for the first time on WWE programming. Kane remained unmasked until 2011, leaving due to injury in July before returning the following November under a new mask.
Chris Jericho’s time with WWE was the most on and off again of any of the inaugural Elimination Chamber competitors. Keep in mind that while Jericho was still involved in WWE, he also pursued outside endeavors, music being the most prominent. The self-proclaimed “King of the World” captured multiple WWE tag team and singles titles throughout the years. He ultimately parted ways with WWE in 2018 to take part in other organizations including New Japan Pro-Wrestling and, to a greater extent, All Elite Wrestling. Jericho was one of AEW’s first signees, not to mention their first world champion, providing the upstart organization with the legitimacy it needed to thrive.
The most deeply involved in WWE was the man who entered the first Elimination Chamber Match with gold: Triple H. This is true from both an on-screen and behind-the-scenes perspective. Even before his retirement from the ring in March of 2022, he served as a company executive. Today, he bears the title of Chief Content Officer of WWE, responsible for the planning, execution, and supervision of content. Though his time from bell to bell has ended, to this day, Triple H continues to make on-screen appearances.
Photo Credit: World Wrestling Entertainment
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