From now until Wrestlemania, I will be counting down my five favorite Wrestlemania matches of all time, from how they came about to what impression they left on the show, the company, and the business. Today, the countdown begins with a crazy spofest of a match that had a lot more depth beneath the surface.
Once the New Age Outlaws gave way, Edge and Christian, the Hardy Boyz, and the Dudley Boyz dominated the WWE Tag Team division at the end of the Attitude Era. The Dudleys were the first of the teams to capture the Tag Team Titles in early 2000. Over the next 14 months, the three teams would combine for an astounding 13 Tag Team Title reigns.
At the previous year’s Wrestlemania, the three teams faced off in a triangle ladder match in which E&C took the titles from the Dudleys. E&C took the titles into SummerSlam, where they defended them in the first TLC match between the two teams. The latter match was the first of its kind and set the standard by which future TLC matches would be judged.
Those two classic encounters set the table for TLC II at Wrestlemania. To dial up the intensity, the teams took aim at one another’s alliances leading up to the match. Lita, Spike Dudley, and Rhyno each came into the cross-hairs of the other teams. None of them accompanied their teams to ringside due to the injuries they sustained, but the injuries would not keep them away altogether.
As one might assume, it did not take long for the action to reach a fast pace. There were no collar-and-elbow tie-ups or wristlocks. Instead, E&C cleared the ring with a ladder within the first minute and the match spilled onto the floor. The Hardys seized the momentum with tandem leg drops on Christian off of a pair of ladders in the ring. The tough times continued for E&C ganged up on Edge with a Wassup Headbutt.
From there, the 60,000 fans in the Astrodome joined in the chorus of, “Devon, get the tables!” With a table set up in the ring, Bubba Ray caught Jeff and powerbombed him on Edge and through the table. As Edge and Jeff slowly recovered, the teams set up three ladders in the ring and all tried to climb simultaneously. Instead, the outer ladders both fell, leaving wrestlers strewn across the ring and on the floor.
With all six wrestlers worn out, Spike Dudley hit the ring and nailed both of E&C with Dudley Dogs, the latter through a table on the floor. As soon as Spike’s attack was complete, Rhyno joined the fray. He hit the Dudleys with a ladder and gored Matt through a table. Edge started to climb the ladder, but Lita came to the ring and pulled him down. Rhyno tried to take her out, only to receive a hurricanrana from her and a chair shot from Spike.
The Dudleys seemingly put Rhyno out of action with a Doomsday Device. Lita cracked Spike with chairshot to the head and immediately received a 3D from the Dudleys. E&C cleared the ring with a series of chairshots to anyone left standing and tried to set up a ladder. While Edge tried to gather himself, Jeff climbed atop the tallest ladder available and hit a Swanton Bomb on Rhyno and Spike through a table.
Christian and Devon each made their way to the top of a ladder in the ring. The ladder gave way and the two were left hanging from the title belts. Neither could unlatch the belts and they both fell to the ring below. Jeff then tried to walk on a series of ladders like a balance beam. When he finally reached the belts and hung from them, Edge dove from another ladder to hit him with the iconic midair spear.
Matt and Bubba Ray were the next to climb a ladder. Before they could get to the belts, Rhyno tipped the ladder and sent both wrestlers sprawling out of the ring and through a cluster of tables. Devon and Edge scuffled on one side of the ladder while Rhyno put Christian on his shoulders and hoisted him to the belts. Christian finally unlatched them and his team won the match.
Only a few weeks later, E&C lost the Tag Team Titles again to the Brothers of Destruction. The belts were never really the point of these matches, though. The TLC matches were about making a new generation of WWE stars. Edge had the most successful singles career of the group. Jeff Hardy was not far behind, and if not for his substance abuse problems, he might have held that honor. Matt Hardy and Christian held secondary titles in WWE and elsewhere.
Ironically, every one of the participants other than Edge went on to have a run in TNA. In 2014, TNA attempted to recreate the TLC aesthetic with The Wolves in place of E&C. Surprisingly, even 12 years after the original match, the results were solid.
The legacy of the Hardys-Dudleys-E&C feud goes beyond the wrestlers involved. They dialed up the use of foreign objects in WWE- some would say excessively. The TLC matches were such a hit that they became the basis for their own PPV event that exists even now.
Why It Worked
The match produced three moments that remain etched in most fans’ memories 13 years later. Jeff’s ladder Swanton, Edge’s flying spear, and Rhyno hurling Matt and Bubba Ray to the floor are crazy spots that helped redefine high risk wrestling in WWE.
Any wrestling fan knows that spots alone do not create a great match. The action has to add up to a sensible storyline that drives the match and the program. This match showed the lengths to which the wrestlers would go to outdo one another. The history between them made fans understand that they all wanted bragging rights over each other. The sequential interference from the friends added a dimension that differentiated it from the previous two encounters.
Above all, the wrestlers in this match showed creativity and passion. When Edge speared Jeff out of the air, it was not just a crazy risk. It stamped both wrestlers in the minds of wrestling fans as stars who will do anything to find success in wrestling.