By Andrew Berg
By almost every possible description, TLC was an in-between show. The PPV itself was sandwiched between Survivor Series and the Royal Rumble. That position on the calendar forced WWE to perpetuate existing storylines for an extra month while they waited to start the Road to Wrestlemania. As a result, most of the matches were simply reshuffled versions of the Survivor Series main event with added stipulations. The results were as one would expect- many of the matches came off as pointless or unnecessary from a narrative perspective. Conversely, a few young stars stepped up in a big way and made it a worthwhile show to watch in spite of the weak spots.
Bray Wyatt def. Dean Ambrose in a TLC Match
Much to my surprise, Ambrose and Wyatt were slotted in the PPV’s main event position instead of John Cena and Seth Rollins. Despite a wacky finish, I felt the match lived up to the main event position and warranted the increased roles for two wrestlers who had not reached this level before this show. It was clear from the beginning that they wanted to show that they belonged in the main event as the match started very quickly with a high level of intensity.
Ambrose started on top by abusing Wyatt with chairs and a kendo stick. Wyatt responded by throwing Ambrose to the floor through a table and whipping him face first into a kendo stick suspended in the corner. The latter, in particular, was a gruesome spot that looked like it could have done serious damage to Ambrose’s eye. As Ambrose recovered, he placed Wyatt on a table outside the ring and delivered an elbow drop off of a ladder. He dragged Wyatt’s limp body to another table and climbed an even higher ladder to impressively one-up his own crazy spot. As they made their way back to the ring, Wyatt popped up and hit Sister Abigail for a two count. Ambrose recovered and responded with Dirty Deeds for another near fall. Ambrose left the ring to look for more weapons and found a live TV monitor under the ring. He set it aside for use later and came up with an even bigger idea. He walked up the ramp and retrieved the biggest ladder he could find, set Wyatt on the Spanish announce table, and delivered a third elbow drop from a crazy elevation. The move came off perfectly and will certainly find its way into highlight reels for many years. Ambrose brought Wyatt back in the ring and tried to hit him with the monitor, but it exploded in his face as he yanked the cords across the ring. Wyatt took advantage of the explosion and hit Sister Abigail again to pin Ambrose.
It was a cheap and heelish win for Wyatt, who clearly did not deserve the victory based on how the match went. Ambrose, on the other hand, will get the support associated with his crazy ladder spot, but doubt arises out of his self-destructive behavior. The heel gets boos for an undeserved win while the face gets sympathy. Even with a weird prop finish, I think that outcome makes a lot of sense.
John Cena def. Seth Rollins in a Tables Match to Remain #1 Contender
While the hijinks at the end of the main event raised an eyebrow toward an otherwise solid match, the Cena-Rollins match was nothing but storyline confusion. From the very start, J&J Security got involved and made it a de facto handicap match for Cena. He took them out with a suplex on a metal barricade to Jamie Noble and an AA into the timekeeper’s area to Joey Mercury. When it looked like Cena and Rollins would have a chance to have a real wrestling match, Cena lifted Rollins for an AA and knocked the referee out in the process. The match only got more scattered from there. Cena successfully put Rollins through a table while the referee was down, but the Security cleared out all the evidence. Rollins and Cena tussled on the apron until they knocked each other through a table at the same time. Two other referees reenacted the finish to the ’94 Royal Rumble and raised each wrestler’s hand and referee-of-record Mike Chioda ordered the match restarted. Big Show inexplicably came to the ring and started to beat up Cena, but Roman Reigns made his return through the crowd and took out Big Show. Amidst the chaos, Cena grabbed Rollins and successfully put him through a table with an AA to win. There was far too much going on in this match and most of it didn’t make sense. What was the point of the ref bump and the restart if Cena was going to win anyway? If Reigns has a problem with Rollins, then why did he only get involved to go after Big Show? How does it help Cena to win the match when he needed outside interference to go over anyway?
Dolph Ziggler def. Luke Harper in a Ladder Match to Win the Intercontinental Title
The undisputed match of the night and show-stealer was the kickoff match. It is clear that Ziggler and Harper both respect the Intercontinental Title as the “worker’s title” and added their submission to the list of great ladder matches fought for it. The story of the match involved Harper trying to hit one huge move that would finish Ziggler off and Ziggler repeatedly finding ways to escape or counter. One move he was not able to counter was a ladder-aided slingshot between the ropes that busted his face wide open and added a lot of color to the match. Likewise, Harper’s arms and chest had several scratches from the ladders, and the excellent camera work gave us plenty of close looks at the impact of the match. After an impressive facebuster from the ladder, Ziggler nearly captured the belt. On his next try, Harper tried to cut him off on a parallel ladder. Ziggler superkicked him off of the ladder and was able to reach the belt and regain his Intercontinental Title. Harper’s one-month run as champion elevated him and made the title feel important, but it was the right move for Ziggler to win here. He is at the peak of his career and has re-energized the Intercontinental Title in a way not seen since the ‘90s.
Nikki Bella def. AJ Lee to Retain the Divas Title
An interview in which Brie Bella made it clear that she is fully in support of her sister (couldn’t they have spared us the atrocious family bickering?) preceded the Divas Title match. Nikki dominated the early part of the match with power offense all targeted at AJ’s back. Most notably, she wrapped AJ around the ring post in a surfboard-like stretch. AJ eventually fought back and even hit a shining wizard, only for Brie to put her sister’s foot on the ropes to break the pin. When the referee ordered Brie to leave ringside, Nikki pulled out a bottle of hairspray and blinded AJ with it. The hairspray also somehow left AJ unconscious for Nikki to hit the Rack Attack and get the pin. For a seven-minute match, it was a solid effort that told a fairly interesting story.
From this point forward, the rest of the matches hardly require any analysis. None were terrible, but none stood out as unique, exciting, or meaningful.
Big Show def. Erick Rowan in a Stairs Match
Rowan and Big Show clearly worked hard and their bodies showed the effects of using such a giant weapon. Still, with two huge men and a huge weapon, the match moved incredibly slowly. Rowan took most of the big bumps early as a sort of newbie rite of passage. He finally put Big Show down with a bodyslam on a set of steps and tried to crush him with another set as he came off of the second turnbuckle. Big Show tried to roll out of the way, but the steps clipped him hip and appeared to really hurt him. Even so, he recovered enough to throw Rowan into a wall of steps set up outside the ring, chokeslam him on another set of steps, and hit him with a KO punch to win. It was a perplexing finish until Big Show and Reigns mixed it up later in the night and it became apparent that WWE wanted Big Show to look legitimate enough for Reigns to get something out of beating him. Either way, it is a shame that Rowan had to lose his first big singles match given the surprisingly positive reaction he has received from fans.
Ryback def. Kane in a Chairs Match
One of the problems with an entire show devoted to TLC is that it leads to sensory overload. By the time this match came around, I couldn’t even remember its stipulation. Kane and Ryback quickly reminded everyone with dozens of chair shots back and forth. When Ryback first went for the Meathook, Kane threw a chair at him to stop him in his tracks. Ryback recovered and hit a Meathook and Shell-Shock to get a decent win that did not stand out in any meaningful way.
Rusev def. Jack Swagger to Retain the US Title
Swagger’s music cut off Lana’s pre-match diatribe and the wrestlers got into it right away. Swagger targeted Rusev’s ankle, which he continued to favor after Swagger’s recent attacks. The first time Rusev locked in the Accolade, Swagger somehow fought out and applied the Patriot Lock. Rusev kicked his way out, delivered a big side kick, and put Swagger back in the Accolade to make him tap out. This match was actually one of the better encounters between the two, but since they have wrestled so often and there is no new wrinkle to their backstory, it felt pointless.
The Usos def. The Miz and Damien Mizdow by Disqualification
It has become a trend for Mizdow to steal every match in which he is involved without receiving a tag. This match was no different, as the most entertaining part was watching him mimic Miz’s offense from the apron. Miz nearly pulled off the win with a Skull Crushing Finale to Jey and a Figure Four to Jimmy, but Jimmy countered into a modified half Boston Crab of his own. As Miz continued to struggle, he retrieved his Slammy Award from ringside and took out both Usos with it to get disqualified. The confusing part of the match, more so than the unclean finish, was the fact that Naomi did not factor in at all. The entire feud has revolved around Miz trying to manipulate her and she did not show up for the match.
A New Day def. The Dusts
The pre-show match, as usual, was a straightforward win for the face team. The most memorable part of the match was the fact that Stardust wore green paint to accent his usual outfit and it smeared all over Kofi Kingston and left him looking like he got slimed on a Nickelodeon awards show. In the end, Big E and Kingston combined for the double-team version of the Big Ending to win.