Whenever you center a PPV on one of the most exciting and innovative matches in wrestling history, you’d expect a fun show. Instead, TLC provided a lackluster event that won’t live long in the memory bar a few standout performances. The flaws were even more painfully obvious when placed against the NXT Takeover: R Evolution show from days earlier, a show that could be matched up against any other WWE PPV from the past twelve months. It became clear to see why a number of WWE superstars have shown dissatisfaction of their creative direction compared to the young stars in developmental.
TLC featured a mixture of hard-hitting action, insane spots, brutal crashes and bizarre finishes. Ladders were scaled, tables were broken, chairs were bent and stairs were smashed. But, in the midst of all these weapons, the stories being told in the process were lacking. Sometimes convoluted, sometimes dull, and often too dangerous to be enjoyed.
With that being said, who managed to climb above the rubble and make a name for themselves, and who was left sitting at the bottom rung?
#9 – Rusev vs. Jack Swagger (United States Championship)
Beginning with a match-up that has previously produced excellence from both competitors, but tonight were utterly hampered by time constraints. Jack Swagger has proven Rusev’s best opponent and brought out the Bulgarian’s best work, and with the injury to Zeb Colter and US Championship at stake, it looked to be adding greater layers to their previous solid feud. Although it was unlikely Swagger would have become the first man to conquer Rusev’s undefeated streak and take his belt, they still should have produced an excellent match to improve the title’s standing in the eye’s of the fans.
What was presented was instead an incredibly rushed affair, that essentially showcased their primary submission moves, but little else. It’s difficult to depict a strong match in less than five minutes, and in the end it looked shoddy by RAW standards, let alone a PPV. Swagger came out swinging, showing the fire one would expect before singling out the ankle. But, after one kick to the outside he was knocked for aloof, and soon locked in the Accolade. Whilst the Real American showed great fight in escaping the hold, a feat few have accomplished, he was then kicked away from his Patriot Lock, and again forced to give in to the Accolade. This was their worst showing against one another, but not due to their efforts. There were so many matches that some would suffer cuts in time, and sadly this championship match was tightened further than most.
#8 – The New Day vs. Gold/Stardust
I will say this immediately; for a kick-off show match, this was better than most. It was given time to work, and actually had some kind of feud surrounding it. After the usual case of having these throwaway matches that mean very little, these teams actually had some storyline fueling it. Goldust consistently produces strong matches in his veteran years, and the other combatants are hardly inefficient in the ring. They are all good superstars and they can produce solid matches whenever called upon.
However, the reason why this is so low is because not a single fan really cared about what happened here. They would have been just as vocal with a cheerleader performance or a dance-off. It’s sad to say, but currently the New Day is getting absolutely zero reaction. Zilch. Even Adam Rose gets some reaction, even if it is telling him and his Bunny to get the hell out of the company. The trio of Kofi Kingston, Big E and Xavier Woods have the technical skills and produce good matches, but their gimmick is not catching fire. It isn’t helped by the fact that Goldust and Stardust have fallen away since losing their tag team titles. In the end, even if the match is solid, if the crowd don’t care or it means nothing, then it can’t be placed above most bouts on the main card.
#7 – Ryback vs. Kane
Chairs matches suck. Full stop. There is no point to them if you can’t hit opponents in the head with them anymore. Even though it is the right decision due to threat of concussions and other head injuries, that means that this match type shouldn’t exist. Maybe making the chairs out of a thinner, more malleable material would make head shots allowable, but if that doesn’t happen this match shouldn’t happen. And, unlike Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins who have shown to be innovators of often plain matches, one was unlikely to receive the same from Ryback and Kane. Although not the worst performers on the roster, both of their best work is usually against somebody that contrasts their powerhouse style.
It wasn’t great, and will suffer from the forgettable tag that most of the contests on this card will suffer from. Arguably, the best moments of this match were when the chairs were out of the picture, and they were actually wrestling and punching each other. The chairs are dull and predictable components, that make every bout seem that they have signed a “not in the face” agreement before the match. Hidden within a TLC match it becomes less of a problem, but when it is the centerpiece of the entire bout it simply becomes a routine of chair to the gut, chair to the back, rinse and repeat. I feel sorry for any competitors that have to endure these type of matches, especially for superstars that can’t exactly fly through the air. At least Ryback got the necessary victory, which was one of its only plus points.
#6 – Nikki Bella vs. AJ Lee (Divas Championship)
The Divas Championship match enters next, and it is an extremely pertinent case when compared to the recent NXT event. Contained within that spectacular was one of the greatest women’s matches in recent memory between Charlotte and Sasha Banks. They blew anything the WWE Divas had produced this year out of the water, and set a huge bar for Nikki Bella and AJ Lee in their title match. Before that, their only target was to improve on their previous match, which they could have achieved by hitting three maneuvers. Now, they had upstarts from NXT outperforming them on a nightly basis. Could they respond at TLC?
In a word, no. This match had all the hallmarks of the traditional bathroom break that had become the standard for WWE divas bouts over the last few years. I will say that Nikki Bella continues to impress me as a heel, with her mixture of strength and taunting a working mixture. She interacts with the audience and parades like a peacock strutting her feathers. AJ Lee, Diva of the Year she may be, but in the last few months she seems to have been performing at half-capacity. This match was simply both women going through the motions, leading to a finish of AJ being sprayed in the eyes with something and finished off with a Rack Attack. Again, this can be considered solid and noting special, the only difference to a TV match being that it didn’t end in a roll-up.
#5 – The Usos vs. The Miz & Damien Mizdow (Tag Team Championship)
Another match that had fortunately received more of a back-story than simply being about the tag team championship. The Miz had been pursuing Jimmy Uso’s wife Naomi with the promise of making her a movie and music star. Whilst Naomi has not shown any romantic interest towards the self-professed A-Lister, she has been annoyed by her husband’s jealously and inclinations that she cannot become a star through the agents Miz has put forward. This added a little more fuel into their feud, rather than simply leave them to battle for the championship with little other interaction beforehand. It was certainly more interesting than endless six-man tag team matches.
Yet, this still didn’t add to a fantastic match, and that was for one simple reason. Damien Mizdow is very funny, and his antics at ringside are a unique way to entertain the crowd. But, when it comes to an actual championship match, it is simply too much comic relief and not enough action. The crowd may applaud his actions, but during the rest of the actual wrestling they are silent or begging Mizdow to get tagged in. The Miz is obviously being instructed to use Mizdow’s popularity as a means to get him heat, but they aren’t being helped by constantly ignoring his partner. The finish leaves it open for another match at Royal Rumble, and whilst disqualification results aren’t exactly conclusive on a PPV, in this case it was the correct way to end the bout.
#4 – John Cena vs. Seth Rollins
Placed a great deal earlier on the card than many were expecting, John Cena faced Seth Rollins in a tables match. With the result having possible WWE Championship implications, it was surprising to see this as the first match of the second hour. That wasn’t the problem though. If there is one match that I dislike almost as much as a chairs match, it is a tables match. I mean, how much can one be expected to enjoy a superstar being lifted in a suplex two or three times, or pulled in an Irish whip towards a folded piece of wood? This concept should have been retired when the Dudley Boyz left the company, as without them it doesn’t have the same relevance. Tables are only good for being slammed through multiple times, and the threat of going through one ending the match simply restricts the performers.
As for this exemplar of that match, it simply followed the same course as usual tables matches. Cena lifting up Rollins for a number of Attitude Adjustments that were blocked was the standard routine. The interference of J&J Security was one thing that was to be expected, and was simply an obstacle that Cena had to overcome towards victory. His usual superman comeback would follow, and although he gets abuse for it, when you are placed against three men it is difficult to do anything but. The double AA on both members into a table was a pretty cool looking spot though. The confusion started when Big Show made his presence felt, as he looked to chokeslam Cena through a table. This led to Roman Reigns’ return when he speared the Giant and helped set up Rollins to be put through a table. Cena winning was an expected result, but the convoluted finish was a little too much.
#3 – Bray Wyatt vs. Dean Ambrose
The main event was selected as the TLC match between Bray Wyatt and Dean Ambrose, which was somewhat of a shock in my mind. Even though they were placed in the match very early on, and given the match that shared the name of the event, their feud had not been treated as the major feud heading into the PPV. However, giving two young stars the platform to become top stars in the future is certainly a step that needs to be taken to build up the next wave of main event talent. Dean Ambrose has already developed a reputation as a man that can take stipulations and stretch them to their absolute boundaries, and whilst Bray Wyatt has a hit-and-miss match record, he could work well in the environment.
A great deal of elements in this match were very good. Ambrose’s use of kendo sticks and chairs was innovative, and his facial expressions were always entertaining. He makes everything he does look like he’s making it up as he goes along, which fits in perfectly for his lunatic character. Wyatt had some strong moments as well, including throwing Ambrose eye-first into a kendo stick and a wicked clothesline that almost decapitated his rival. But, it fell down in a number of areas. Firstly, going on last they were forced into some rather dangerous spots due to what had gone on beforehand, including three elbow drops from the top of ladders onto Wyatt. Ambrose was in control for the majority, making it somewhat unbalanced. Yet the worst part was the finish, which was an exploding monitor attempted to be used by Ambrose exploding and blinding him, leaving him open to a second Sister Abigail. This inconclusive finish will likely lead into a Royal Rumble match, and really they should likely be moving on now.
#2 – Big Show vs. Erick Rowan
Few people would have assumed that the first ever Steel Stairs match would have been placed this highly on the list. However, both Big Show and Erick Rowan stepped up to the unusual stipulation and produced a very good match. I’ve heard fans and commentators out there bash Show for years, and call Rowan the weakest link of the Wyatt Family. Although they aren’t ever going to soar off the top rope or run for hours on end, Show is a main event star for a reason. He has honed his craft and pushes the limits of his ability, and walks around the ring with a purpose. As for Rowan, he has grown in popularity and his skills have shown improvement, with the addition of a nice spin kick a great addition.
Overall, the steel steps didn’t prove to be anything of a hindrance. Both superstars were comfortably strong enough to lift them and smash them into the other, and Show in particular would easily shove Rowan into anyone left standing. There was a big spot where Show speared his bearded foe through a stack of steps which looked remarkably painful, and showed that both stars were very committed to making this match as good as it possibly could be. They took hits to the back, shoulder and face, and threw themselves into the challenge of making this great. However, the main sticking point is the result. Rowan has been garnering some good momentum as a babyface with an odd gimmick, so the choice of Big Show to go over is somewhat baffling. Show isn’t being pushed towards the main event, with his main rivalry being with John Cena above all else, and the manner that he was chokeslammed into the steps and then knocked out with a punch.
#1 – Dolph Ziggler vs. Luke Harper (Intercontinental Championship)
Unsurprisingly, it is a Dolph Ziggler match that sits atop the rankings once again, as he has proven to be one of the most consistently strong performers in the second half of 2014. With WWE Champion Brock Lesnar currently out of action, Ziggler’s presence in the Intercontinental title scene has been the premier title matches in the last few months. Alongside a powerful and unique performer like Luke Harper in a ladder match was likely to produce strong results, and they undoubtedly produced the most memorable match of the night. From the outset of attacks to the solid finish, these were two performers that were looking to standout and be recognized, and they definitely achieved that.
In the kayfabe world of sports entertainment, true fans still appreciate the superstars and divas put their bodies on the line and risk serious injury with every match. That being said, I can’t recall a contest that made me wince with pain and fear for the safety of the participants as much as this ladder match did. It was brutally fascinating. A suicide dive by Harper onto Ziggler with a ladder looked as though it had broken his arm for a second, the way that he screamed in agony. Ziggler was left with a back covered in welts and bruises that would persist for weeks on end, and was busted open when launched into a ladder. Both superstars by the end of the night required stitches, and I couldn’t truthfully say that this meant it had a great flow to it. But, what both men can be proud of is the way they wanted to put on a show and paid little regard to their safety in the process. It may have been dangerous and ugly at times, yet it was also very impressive and certainly memorable. In the end, Ziggler pulled out the surprise title regain after superkicking Harper off another ladder, and became a worthy four-time Intercontinental Champion in the process. One of the few bright sparks in an overall lukewarm presentation.