WWE returned to pay-per-view (PPV) last night with its end of year gimmick showcase, TLC, from the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio. And it never had a chance of being anything other than a disappointment.
That's because just a few days prior, NXT put on one of the best pro wrestling shows of the year with Takeover: R Evolution. That show featured strong characters who progressed properly, interesting angles involving those characters, theatricality that made sense within the framework of a wrestling show, brilliant booking that both perfectly serviced today while staying true to yesterday and building to tomorrow, outstanding matches, and clean finishes.
Again, there was just no way WWE was going to come anywhere close to that.
It's just unfortunate they continually shot themselves in the foot right when it looked as though they were getting it right. There was some damn good wrestling at TLC but only one match had a satisfactory finish with anything resembling meaning.
Ryback can go over Kane clean all he wants, there was no reason to feel invested in that story. In fact, there was hardly even a story worth telling.
That's the biggest problem here, the biggest difference between NXT and WWE at present time. NXT put you so strongly in Sami Zayn's corner, you literally shed tears when he finally won the title. WWE put you firmly in Dean Ambrose's corner cheering him on while he paid Bray Wyatt back for "injuring" his throat (another booking promblem that affects enjoyment of a storyline) and then had him lose not because Wyatt was better, or smarter, or more prepared, or cheated, or had outside help. No, Ambrose lost because he's dumb and apparently a monitor explodes if you unplug it violently enough.
I'm having this huge issue where I can't get behind any of the babyfaces in WWE. Literally not a single one because none of them are sympathetic. Randy Orton was getting there just before he left, unleashing an unbridled but righteous anger that allowed you to feel invested in it. You wanted it.
Let's check the babyfaces on this show and see if you feel that way about any of them:
Dolph Ziggler (Yes)
The Usos (No)
Erick Rowan (No)
John Cena (No)
AJ Lee (No)
Jack Swagger (No)
Dean Ambrose (Yes)
They paid off Ziggler and, after years of coming up on the short end of the stick, there's no more arguing against his booking. There isn't a wrestler on the WWE roster who has been booked better than Ziggler over the past two months outside of maybe Damien Mizdow.
Then you have Ambrose and, as mentioned, they shit all over that with that ridiculous finish. And, yes, the finish is what counts, folks. The Bears can score 70 points in the first three quarters and have me floating on air but if they lose in overtime because Jay Cutler slipped on a banana peel a blind man could see and fumbled the ball away, guess what? I don't care at all about those first three quarters anymore.
There's no crisis in WWE. The babyfaces aren't being forced to dig deep to overcome adversity created by legitimate loss. They're just booked to lose because they're dumb. The Usos fell prey to a stunt double gimmick that has been going on for months, Rowan was pinned with stairs on his stomach when he easily could have lifted his shoulders up, AJ was distracted by someone who was literally being told to leave, and Ambrose didn't think to just unplug a monitor before he went charging at his opponent with it. To make matters worse, he beat the hell out of the monitor when he recovered from getting shocked with it. You can say "oh that's just the LUNATIC FRINGE, MAGGLE" but that's more like a petulant child misplacing blame and throwing a temper tantrum.
That's a babyface to get behind, right?
Dolph Ziggler vs. Luke Harper: There's a part of me that felt bad for the entirety of this match due to Ziggler's concussion history. This was a brutal assault on the human body and while it was done for the sake of our entertainment there will always be that nagging voice in the back of my head telling me it's not okay and that a real person is probably taking time off his life. That said, both men deserve praise for going all out and putting together a match that may have lacked a certain flow but made up for it in sheer brutality. Outside of the "Ziggler instantly recovers to knock Harper off the ladder because he was climbing too slow for no good reason at all" spot, they made everything count. Top marks for this one, and a strong start to the show..
The Miz & Damien Mizdow vs. The Usos: The focus of all Miz tag team matches going forward is going to be on Mizdow because that's what happens when a character gets over in such an organic way. This is one of the few times it will be a detriment because it did nothing to serve the story they've been telling for weeks on television. Naomi, who has been the focus of the issue between Miz and Jimmy Usos, was nowhere to be found save for one quick backstage peek of her watching the match and a replay of an angle they shot on the pre-show with Miz saying his offer expires tonight. They never followed up on that. The match was serviceable enough, but it made little sense and the disqualification finish killed it.
Big Show vs. Erick Rowan: When this match was announced, it was obvious it was going to be awful. There's almost no way for a Show vs. Rowan match to be anything but. Make it a Stairs match and it leads to what we were given here. There were multiple botches throughout the proceedings and, again, it was a Stairs match. A Stairs match. They had a Stairs match and it sucked. That's the least surprising sentence I've ever posted on this site.
John Cena vs. Seth Rollins: This would have been a perfectly acceptable match had it happened on Raw, though you likely wouldn't remember much of it. That's the biggest mark against it, really. On a night when nothing stood out after Ziggler and Harper tore the house down in the opener, these two fell in line. There was no grabbing of any brass ring here, folks. The match was horribly overbooked with a silly false finish involving a restart just to get to Big Show interfering for some reason and Roman Reigns returning to do a run in for some other reason. This should have felt big. This should have been a big deal. They didn't treat this much different than any other match on the card and we wonder why they're totally okay with having a champion who never appears on television. Nothing feels like it means anything anymore. For that matter, putting this match on fourth spoke volumes. Whether you're a Cena fan or not, this should have been the main event.
Roman Reigns took acting lessons, folks: If they scripted this interview Reigns gave to
declip declare himself entering the Royal Rumble match, it's time to stop. He's either bad at remembering his lines, or he's a terrible promo. I'm inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt and assume it's the former and if that's the case, WWE needs to alter the way they write television for him. The big stars have the stroke to break the script. If they expect Reigns to reach the level of a John Cena, he needs some creative freedom.
Nikki Bella vs. AJ Lee: It certainly appeared as though they wanted to give these two an opportunity to have what amounted to an actual wrestling match. The work was mostly fine but nothing was really connecting and the crowd wasn't into it. What's more, they failed to deliver on the natural progresion of the story even after teasing it in a pre-match interview: Brie Bella again stood by her sister, this time getting booted to the back and providing enough distraction to allow Nikki to cheat to win. Why not run the split at a PPV? Does it even matter at this point?
Ryback vs. Kane: There isn't much of anything to say about this. There were chairs, they hit each other with them, and Ryback pinned Kane after hitting his finish. If you're a fan of either of these guys, this may have been your cup of tea. If you're not, well, this hardly registered a blip on the radar.
Rusev vs. Jack Swagger: Just as there was little to no heat for any of the two matches that came before it, there wasn't much for the crowd to invest in here. Rusev was always going to win and Swagger was never the guy to challenge him and that includes when he failed the first time just a couple months ago. This was a short, pointless match that did nothing for anyone involved and served only to fill time until the main event.
Dean Ambrose vs. Bray Wyatt: Well, they started just right. In a feud like this, you don't allow your opponent to complete his full entrance unless you're planning something and sure enough, as soon as the lights came up, Ambrose was throwing a ladder at Wyatt's head. That's good pyschology, folks. And they maintained that throughout the match, even if it seemed to drag in spots because they were setting up for something bigger, and bigger, and bigger still. The two brutalized each other, though not to the degree that Ziggler and Harper did earlier in the evening, and it fit. There were some great sequences too, like Dean and Bray lying next to each other broken and Dean randomly kissing Bray, who responded by throwing a headbutt, which caused Dean to furiously start punching him. It was great. And then the finish happened, the finish being Ambrose grabbing a monitor, trying to rush Wyatt with it without unplugging it, and the monitor exploding in his face. Wyatt took advantage, hit Sister Abigail, and scored the pin. This was a fine match with a truly awful finish, and that was a theme all throughout this show.
Hey, at least Royal Rumble is the next PPV, right?
That's it from me, Cagesiders. Now it's your turn to sound off in the comments section below with all your thoughts on last night's show. How did you like it, if you liked it at all?
All photos via WWE.com