In this day and age you can’t just “predict” a PPV anymore, you have to to account for the capricious whims of WWE’s septuagenarian, sleep-deprived egomaniac owner. You can’t just “preview” a PPV…you have to preview how things should go, in a reasonable and sane world, and then add “so of course…” and explain what Vince McMahon will probably do instead.
Consider this your SO OF COURSE preview of TL IT’S TOO MUCH WWE. TOO MUCH WRESTLING C.
month week on SO OF COURSE, WWE aired Survivor Series, which featured a WWE2K-inspired “dream” match between Goldberg and Brock Lesnar, that actually ended faster than is possible in a WWE2K game. Goldberg squashed Lesnar in one of the most pleasantly surprising surprise finishes WWE has done in some time. That’s about all the nice things I have to say about that (if I had to, I’d compliment the semi-mainevent Survivor Series elimination match too).
Survivor Series is behind us and now we’re back to our next brand-exclusive PPV. Since the WWE Brand Split was initiated, the company has doubled-down on these half-roster shows. They tried this last time they did the brand split but those were the days of actual pay-per-views, and the $50+ price tags made ordering an event every few weeks (and featuring only half the superstars) simply not feasible. With the WWE Network, the company has no such restrictions and instead has a good reason to put as much original content as possible on the streaming service. So we are now in a situation where WWE is airing a plethora of special event content, some of it is great…some of it is not.
The point is there is a lot of it.
SummerSlam took place on August 21st. Three weeks later was Smackdown’s first show, Backlash. Two weeks later was Raw’s first show, Clash of Champions. Two weeks later was Smackdown’s No Mercy. Three weeks later was Hell in a Cell. The dual-branded Survivor Series came three weeks later and now, two weeks after that, we have TLC. If you’re keeping up, in two weeks Raw will be back with Road Block before a merciful six week break in the buildup to the Royal Rumble. And since WWE has made it policy to turn their dual-branded shows into four-hour events (with Mania stretching to…I don’t even know how long I was sitting in the stadium for Mania32) you can probably expect two hour-long Rumbles, one for each brand.
Not to mention the three hour+ Raw, two hour Smackdown, NXT on Wednesdays and now the new WWE205 (a cruiserweight-exclusive show). Next week you can enjoy ten hours of WWE programming. For Royal Rumble week you can stretch that number to over 13 (accounting for the Takeover special and longer Royal Rumble). WWE sees that is more bang for your buck. I’m starting to feel like Mr Creosote in The Meaning of Life. Just one more mint, they say…
But at least this time it’s a Smackdown show, which—if the weekly program itself is any indication—is likely to delight. From almost the beginning of the split, the blue brand has been the consistent winner in the battle to determine which show is actually worth watching. Whereas Raw has been meandering and pointless, Smackdown has been a lean, mean and highly efficient wrestling machine. The characters have clear motivations, the feuds progress and evolve, there’s a sense of fun over the proceedings. It’s nice. I like nice. The only complaint I would offer is that the small roster means a few too many rematches (though not as much as Raw, despite that show’s larger roster), but that’s not the fault of the writers so much as it is Vince McMahon who has final say over what superstars appear on what shows.
TLC offers up half a dozen matches (half of which are recent PPV rematches) which, in keeping with the theme, will feature gimmick-stipulations revolving around tables, ladders, chairs and combinations thereof. Let’s break it down and see how Vince McMahon can ruin it:
KALISTO vs BARON CORBIN (Chairs Match)
In a battle between midcard fodder (Corbin) and cruiserweight not on the cruiserweight show (Kalisto) the winner is the viewer! If this is anything more than a Corbin squash I’ll be surprised. In fact, if WWE was smart they’d trade put Corbin over strong here, trade Kalisto to Raw for Zayn and call it a day. Corbin can be built up into a midcard title challenger, assuming Smackdown gets a babyface midcard champion anytime soon. Either way, even if a trade doesn’t happen, the better pick is Corbin, since he’s the more fragile superstar. Kalisto has the ability to rebound with the fans if he could get a push; his in-ring repertoire will see to that. Corbin is just a big man and big men need to be protected or they’re just glorified jobbers.
This is a chairs match so I expect one or two spots that make it seem like Kalisto might topple the big guy, but in the end Corbin wins with an End of Days on a folded chair (which will end up looking more painful for Corbin than Kalisto..).
SO OF COURSE…
NIKKI BELLA vs CARMELLA (No-DQ match)
Carmella was a reliable fan favorite on NXT, but long-time viewers will remember that she didn’t start out that way. Initially she was hated as the third wheel in the dynamic duo of Enzo and Cass. Over time, thanks to NXT’s great writing, Carmella became an integral part of the team. Unfortunately she wasn’t able to transition to the bigger stage on Smackdown the way Enzo and Cass have done on Raw. Turning her heel was a risky move but it seems to have paid off pretty well. She’s still not getting big reactions, but she’s getting better reactions, and that’s a babystep. It helps that, for some reason I can’t explain, the wider WWE audience seems enamored with Nikki Bella, so Carmella’s feud with her has helped the newbie get her feet wet on the two hour show.
This is officially Smackdown’s non-title women’s feud. That is to say, this is the only non-title women’s feud. But I suppose that’s not a fair criticism since there’s only like 5 women on Smackdown anyway. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to mix things up a little bit though, and maybe the fact that this show has so many rerun matches hints that some shuffling is going to happen, just in time for the new year. In that case, the babyface will probably get her victory and both parties will move on, with one of them probably the next women’s title challenger (depending on who wins the title).
SO OF COURSE…
THE MIZ vs DOLPH ZIGGLER (Ladder Match)
Miz won the title. Then he beat Dolph for the title. Then he beat him again. Then, I’m pretty sure he beat him again. And then, when everyone was all like “no, please stop.” Dolph won and everyone was suddenly “hey that’s pretty coo—oh he lost it again.” Miz won it back and retained against Sami Zayn at Survivor Series. Now he returns to Smackdown to defend it against…Dolph Ziggler again.
I predicted last
month week that Miz’ surprise reclaiming of the title was so that he could drop it to Zayn. After all, WWE teased big changes would happen if Zayn won, so (OF COURSE) they didn’t do any of that. It would be SUCH a WWE thing to do then, to just give the belt back to Dolph and pretend like Miz’ latest reign never happened.
SO OF COURSE…
BECKY LYNCH vs ALEXA BLISS (Tables Match)
Can it be a “rematch” if they never had the “match?” At No Mercy, Bliss and Lynch were supposed to compete for the Women’s title but Lynch was not medically cleared so the match was scrapped. The two continued their war with words over the next month and now are set to finally square off. Technically they already squared off on Smackdown, but that was a means to an end; Lynch won the match but Bliss had her foot on the ropes, giving both competitors an “out” as to who was better. Once the title match was announced for TLC, Bliss turned her heeling up a notch, alternating between physically and verbally attacking her opponent, demonstrating why she is fast becoming the best female competitor outside of the core Four Horsewomen.
There’s a fair amount of excitement, at least on my part, for this match, thanks in no small way to the cancellation of the No Mercy match. It wasn’t planned but it did show that slow-burning a feud over multiple months can work. You don’t have to twiddle your thumbs for a month and then hurry and book everything in the final few weeks. That’s how too many Mania matches are built up in the big break between the February PPV and the big show. Keeping the focus on the feud and slowly building to the final confrontation makes for good TV and usually pays off with a hot match. It’s a formula that worked in big matches like Rock vs Austin at Mania 15 and here in a smaller match for the women’s title. It’s also a tables match so anything goes; you can be sure the ladies will go all-out. It should be a good one.
SO OF COURSE…
THE WYATT FAMILY vs HEATH SLATER & RHYNO
I’m still not sure what to make of Randy Orton’s time alongside Bray Wyatt. Structurally it’s the same as Daniel’s Bryan’s brief time with the cult, but that always felt like a babyface masquerading as a villain (even if that wasn’t the plan until the night Bryan turned back). With Orton—maybe it’s just the fact that Randy has always had such a expressionless, stoic (let’s just call it boring) personality—it feels like he’s a heel but we never really saw the turn. Let’s go to Wikipedia to help us summarize what’s been happening with Randy Orton…
On the August 23 episode of SmackDown, Orton spoke about his match against Lesnar and declared that he and Lesnar would cross paths again, before Bray Wyatt interrupted him. The following week, Orton accepted Wyatt’s challenge for a match at Backlash. At Backlash, Orton was attacked backstage by Wyatt before the show and subsequently lost the scheduled match by forfeit. It was later revealed that Orton was not cleared to wrestle at the event due to a legitimate concussion that occurred the previous month at SummerSlam. Orton later battled Lesnar again at a house show in Chicago in a no disqualification match, but lost once more.
Orton resumed his feud with Wyatt and faced off against him at No Mercy, a match he lost due to a distraction by the returning Luke Harper. On the October 11 episode of Smackdown, Orton was paired with Kane in a tag team match against Wyatt and Harper, but once again lost the match due to distraction by Harper. On the October 25 edition of SmackDown, Orton interfered on Wyatt’s behalf in his match with Kane, leading to speculation that he had joined the Wyatt Family, though this was neither confirmed nor denied by WWE or Orton On the November 1 edition of SmackDown, Wyatt and Harper helped Orton win his match against Kane, thus confirming Orton’s alliance with the group.
One week he’s losing to Wyatt in a tag match and then two weeks later he’s helping Wyatt. H’s palling around, tagging with him and being bad with no clearly defined explanation for it. It seems like maybe Orton’s plan is to destroy the family from the inside-out, by turning Harper against Wyatt. That would make sense since it’s been Harper whose constant interference was the cause of Orton’s losses to Wyatt last month. But it would be nice if there was some more clearly-defined characterizing going on, so that we don’t have to rely on blind speculation. If the plan is to implode the Wyatt family, then we have to work backwards to figure out when the big three-way match would take place. The most logical answer is WrestleMania, which might point to the Royal Rumble being the moment when the split first occurs. That might point to Orton and Wyatt winning the tag belts here, in order to raise the stakes.
SO OF COURSE…
AJ STYLES vs DEAN AMBROSE (TLC Match)
This has been the Smackdown feud since the brandsplit really kicked off in the aftermath of SummerSlam. And it’s time for it to be put to rest. With it comes the temporary removal of Dean Ambrose from the title picture, the moving away from James Ellsworth (at least as a focal character in the main event scene) and the evolution of AJ Styles as WWE Champion. Simply put he needs to be beat someone new or his reign is going to start getting stale. The flashy pick for the finish is, of course, Undertaker, and it’s easy to gameplan how that would go: Styles retains over Ambrose at TLC, the lights go out, Taker returns, tombstones Styles as the show ends. The have a match at the Royal Rumble (a casket match!) and Styles wins when Taker’s Mania 33 opponent interferes or some such. Although I firmly believe it will be Cena vs Styles at Mania 33, I can see a scenario where Cena vs Undertaker happens…I would just be at a loss for who would be the WWE Title challenger at the big show in that scenario. Although a triple threat between Cena, Styles and Undertaker would be interesting, and feuds between each of them either are already established or could be very easily.
Whatever happens the only thing that seems certain is that AJ Styles will retain. He may win cleanly, though that seems unlikely as WWE has historically protected “top” babyfaces who lose title matches. Ellsworth may make one final play, perhaps inadvertently costing Ambrose the match. That could possibly set up Dean for a heel turn on James, but that would still leave him without a serious opponent to compete against, but since the Rumble is next up that might not matter. No matter what, take it to the bank, Styles retains. He’s been incredible from the moment he stepped onto the stage at the 2016 Rumble, helped to carry the B-show despite a depleted roster, and has put on match of the night more times than I can count. Letting him cross the one-year anniversary mark with his belt is not just good business, it’s an honor well-deserved.
SO OF COURSE…
Oh well, there’s always NXT. Here’s to Sunday!