TLC Review: Dolph Ziggler and The Shield Walk Through the Door

Sunday’s TLC PPV demonstrated that a wrestling show can succeed without wild plot twists or shocking guest appearances. Instead, the show relied on well-wrestled matches that fit within their respective storylines to create an entertaining program. Of course, the presence of the namesake tables, ladders, and chairs spurred the participants’ creativity in a way that ratcheted up the intrigue of several matches.  Altogether, TLC turned out an impressive card with plenty of high spots, and enough entertainment in the low spots to keep from dragging the event down.

In the last match of the night, Dolph Ziggler took advantage of the big stage to earn what is probably the biggest win of his career to date in a Ladder Match against John Cena for Ziggler’s Money in the Bank briefcase. As is his custom, Ziggler spent a great deal of the match absorbing Cena’s punishment and relentlessly fighting back. Even when Ziggler had the advantage, Cena still showed his strength- he was able to ascend the ladder with Ziggler holding onto him with a sleeper hold, then fell backward to put both of them through a table. Throughout the match, both Ziggler and Cena used the ladders as offensive weapons and showed the punishment on their bodies. In one innovative spot, Cena collapsed a ladder while Ziggler climbed it and gorilla pressed the ladder with Ziggler still on top of it. Ziggler escaped without being crushed by the ladder, but the spot once again highlighted Cena’s ability to use his power in unique ways during matches. After Cena gained the advantage in the match and appeared to be closing in on victory, Vickie Guerrero came to the ring and threatened Cena with a chair. AJ responded by ignoring Cena’s request for her to stay away from the match and attacked Vickie with a series of trademark Cena moves, including the Five Knuckle Shuffle. With Vickie and Ziggler incapacitated, Cena started to climb the ladder while AJ skipped around it. As Cena neared the top of the ladder, AJ surprisingly turned on Cena and tipped the ladder over, allowing the recovered Ziggler to hit Cena with a crescent kick and climb the ladder for the win while displaying utter shock at the circumstances that led to his victory.

While I did not expect AJ to turn on Cena at TLC, I know that others anticipated the result, and there are at least two ways WWE could develop her motivation to fit into the larger story. The first way is for her to turn on Cena because he did not show faith in her by repeatedly asking her to stay away from his matches, or simply that she wanted to use the situation to elevate herself. The second is reaction that reaches farther back and makes their entire relationship a sham. AJ could say that she led Cena on and manipulated him because he did not help her clear her name when she was accused of an inappropriate relationship with him or something similar. I prefer the second path because it excuses some of the incoherent parts of the storyline as part of the ruse. It will also be interesting to see whether there is any association between AJ and Vickie Guerrero, and if either of their dealings with Brad Maddox lead to additional angles. In any case, there are many possible outcomes to the story, which indicates that it has been written well to this point.

Ziggler is the other obvious winner from the main event match. I wrote before the PPV that his credibility would suffer permanent damage if he could not break through with his big opportunity against Cena. After a year of building his MITB persona, it was a crossroads for Ziggler as a main event wrestler and he lived up to expectations. It does not matter to me that Ziggler did not win cleanly, as heels in WWE main events almost never win cleanly, especially against Cena. Walking out with the MITB briefcase was a career-making coup for Ziggler and he appears to be ready to turn that momentum into a real title run.

The show’s other main event saw another heel association look strong in a victory over their popular face counterparts. The Shield opened most fans’ eyes with their surprise intervention in the Survivor Series main event, but any remaining skeptics had to be impressed with their official match debut against Ryback and Team Hell No. The TLC match was full of crazy spots, and Rollins, Ambrose, and Reigns impressively wrestled nearly the entire match as a unit while their opponents were frequently divided, giving them the opportunity to recover outside. Some of the more memorable moments in the match included a triple powerbomb to Ryback through the Spanish announce table, a titanic double superplex to Daniel Bryan off of a table that was suspended on the top turnbuckle, and an incredibly long fall through several tables by Seth Rollins when Ryback threw him off of a ladder near the entrance ramp. In the end, The Shield’s divide-and-conquer strategy won out, as Reigns and Ambrose pinned Daniel Bryan while Kane was buried under debris near the time keeper and Ryback tried to get back to the ring after the giant fall for Rollins. It was an incredible TLC match, reminiscent of the best of the Hardy/Dudley/Edge & Christian era, and will likely go down as one of the best matches of 2012.

For The Shield, it also means instant legitimacy. Whether they point their attention at the tag team titles, one of the world titles, or a continued rivalry with Ryback, they will enter their next phase with as much momentum as WWE heels ever have. They did not win by a fluke or by cheating, so every fan is forced to respect them, which means they will be even more hopeful that their face rivals can settle the score.

Other Notes

Team Rhodes Scholars won a #1 Contenders’ Tag Team Tables match over Rey Mysterio and Sin Cara in a contest that will not get its proper respect due to the other great matches on the card. The match ended suddenly and violently when Sin Cara attempted a springboard move, but was shoved back out of the ring and through two tables outside…

Antonio Cesaro retained his U.S. Title in a nondescript match against R-Truth. Cesaro has made a habit of wrestling some of the best matches on TV each week, so seeing him wrestle what was basically another one of his Raw matches was disappointing. I think he is ready for a higher-stakes angle…

Kofi Kingston’s win over Wade Barrett to retain the Intercontinental Title was a little better, but still did not live up to the show’s standards. Both mid-card title matches suffered from the lack of stipulations relative to the excitement in the main events. Kingston won with a very sudden Trouble in Paradise kick that helped him gather more deserved momentum, albeit at the expense of the also-deserving Barrett. If I sound too negative about these last two matches, it is important to remember that have mid-card matches between good wrestlers in feuds that actually get TV time to develop is still a great perk…

Eve kept her Divas Title by beating Naomi, the surprise winner of the pre-show Divas Battle Royal. After the match, Eve again posed in victory over her fallen opponent…

Alberto Del Rio acted like a full face in defending Ricardo Rodriguez and the Spanish announce team against an assault by 3MB. He then joined The Miz and surprise teammate Brooklyn Brawler to beat 3MB in a six-man tag team match. I liked the inclusion of the Brawler for the benefit of the outstanding Barclays Center crowd, but the match seemed like little more than an excuse to get Miz and Del Rio a PPV check…

Big Show’s win over Sheamus to retain the World Heavyweight Title was another good match between the two. It reminded me of the HHH-Undertaker match at Wrestlemania that was more about showing pain tolerance and endurance than actually wrestling. Big Show won after normal chair shots and the KO Punch were not enough to keep Sheamus down, and he found a giant folding chair to finally eliminate his rival. With three consecutive positive results over Sheamus, it appears that Big Show is fit for a new rival, although I respect the series of matches these two had over the last three months.