Heated rivalries turned explosive at WWE SmackDown Live's TLC pay-per-view last night (Dec 4, 2016) in Dallas, Texas. For full results and the live blog from the incredible Reverend Kain, click here.
Why James, Why
The heavy use of James Ellsworth has become something of a divisive topic, and his use tonight surely won't quell those rows. In a massive shock, with Dean Ambrose poised to grab the WWE World Championship, Ellsworth tipped over the ladder he was standing on, sending him through multiple tables on the outside of the ring. AJ Styles, who had been knocked clear out of the ring just prior—giving Ambrose what looked like a clear win—clambered back in, grabbed his title, and gave a very puzzled look at Ellsworth, who wildly celebrated on the outside.
Styles and Ambrose had gone to war beforehand, in a captivating brawl that befit the intensity displayed in last Tuesday's go home segment. Also, AJ Styles is an insane bumper.
Credit to the blue brand: leading up to this bout, they've used Ellsworth to intelligently advance the main event angle, and have now set up some big drama going forward. Yes, they are continuing to use him, but his switch into delusional heel is promising. Some people might not be a fan, but he's absolutely nailing this character. "It's strategy, everyone," Ellsworth claimed on Twitter following the show.
Ellsworth ran into Commissioner Shane McMahon backstage (off camera), and unexpectedly appeared on Talking Smack to announce that his world championship opportunity would take place this Tuesday. This was important—rather than letting the story sit for two days, they immediately addressed the question on everyone's mind, and in a completely logical way.
It makes sense that somebody like him, plucked from the indies after toiling for years, would let the fame go to his head. His rapid ascent into prominence on SmackDown Live is understandably a huge ego boost, and several wins over the world champion have given him massive delusions of grandeur. And why not? A few months ago he was a nobody working in the Mid-Atlantic, and now he's a bonafide star in WWE.
With Talking Smack co-hosts Renee Young and General Manager Daniel Bryan utterly bemused, he went full delusional, saying that he had Styles' number and that he had beaten him three times—completely ignoring the fact that Ambrose was the sole reason for any of the wins (which both Renee Young and Daniel Bryan pointed out). He downplayed his betrayal of Ambrose, saying "Oh we go way back," and that he'll give him the first title shot after Ellsworth wins the championship.
After a replay of what had transpired, Ellsworth immediately noted, "Yeah, I don't care for that footage. I'm focused on this Tuesday." One imagines Ambrose has a far different take on the matter.
(Bryan chastising Ellsworth for interfering in a SmackDown Live world championship match, something that they previously could hold over "that stupid Universal title," was so good.)
But Ellsworth better watch out: Dean doesn't take backstabbings particularly well, and Styles will surely relish the chance to dismantle the chinless wonder.
Tuesday will sure be interesting.
So The Miz is great.
It's very hard to argue against the feud between The Miz and Dolph Ziggler as the feud of the year, and they certainly enhanced their case tonight with an exceptional ladders match over the Intercontinental Championship.
Ladder matches are usually ridden—and ruined—with trope, but this one avoided the inexplicable "why are they climbing so slow" spots by employing devastating leg work throughout the match. The lack of mobility was explained in the story of the match—that attention to detail has been exceptional throughout this feud. (In particular, Miz' selling of his leg injury when he clattered to the outside was unbelievably good.)
After a grueling match featuring many vicious ladder spots, the title swayed just out of reach of both men, haunting and teasing. But The Miz finally caught up to Ziggler, gave him two low blows, and continued his reunion tour with the once-again prestigious title. He even cut a promo afterward in which he mockingly thanked Bryan for motivating him and called everyone a loser except for Maryse and himself—then concluded his speech with a deep kiss from his wife.
How good was that.
If you haven't seen it, you need to check out The Miz' appearance on Talking Smack, in which he and Bryan again furiously yelled at each other (continuing to yell even as the show faded to black). That show has been such a boon for SmackDown Live—without it, the blue brand would be merely putting on a great show. With Talking Smack included, though, Tuesday nights are must watch. This is an all-time great run of wrestling television.
A Twist in the Tale
Alexa Bliss is the new SmackDown Live women's champion.
It's a sign of how highly the company thinks of her, which is great to see. She has really come into her own over the last year, and excelled after her call up from NXT.
Bliss put former champion Becky Lynch through a table with a powerbomb on the outside following a massive rake to the eyes and use of the ring apron to trip her foe. This was a very clever way to finish this match, with Bliss' deviousness and ingenuity both coming into play.
Lynch, after the match, took none too kindly to being approached for a post-match interview: "I don't appreciate you coming in my face at this time ... it don't feel good, all right?" Jaded Becky is a smart direction to take the character, and Rebecca Quin's versatility and considerable acting chops will no doubt help tell whatever story is to come.
And no one's going to complain about more promo battles between these two, especially with a new edge from Becky. Though it was a surprise to initially see a happy Bliss on Talking Smack (crying and talking about how her parents were there), she reverted to type soon enough when Becky's name was mentioned, disdainfully saying that The Lasskicker "put in the effort but it wasn't enough ... so obviously she didn't try that hard."
United and Triumphant
The Cinderella story of Heath Slater and Rhyno as SmackDown Live tag team champions has come to a close, and Bray Wyatt finally has gold—in large part thanks to his new stablemate, Randy Orton. But the real MVP of this whole story is Luke Harper.
For weeks now, Harper has stared a hole into Orton, clearly believing he was a fraud and would turn on Wyatt at any minute. Orton, clearly aware of this, has goaded Harper as well into paranoia. But Luke is a team player, and would do whatever it takes to help his mentor, Bray.
Harper indeed sacrificed himself for the cause during the match, pushing Orton out of the way of a Gore on the outside, instead taking the blow himself.
When Rhyno set up for the Gore on Wyatt, Orton (the legal man) instead slithered into the ring, hit the Man Beast with an RKO, and won the titles. The post-match angle didn't disappoint, with Harper very obviously holding the championships in the background. When he went to give one of the titles to Bray, Orton instead grabbed the other out of his hand, prompting an immediate glare from Harper. Wyatt was more gracious, putting his title over Harper's shoulder to signify that he was not forgotten—and in a surprise, Orton followed suit. The trio posed for the camera, seemingly a cohesive unit.
There's a lot of stories they can tell with this trio—and expect SmackDown Live to tell them, in no small part to Harper's exceptional job of building the narrative strictly with body language.
That's ... it?
The No Disqualification match between Nikki Bella and Carmella was ... a bit of a disappointment.
Mind you, it's not that it was bad. But the build was so good, and so heated, that a lot more aggression was expected. It felt a bit like their placement on the card determined how physical they could get—the atmosphere of the feud dictated a match resembling the brutality of Monday night's women's championship match.
We didn't get that.
While kendo sticks were liberally employed, everything felt just slightly muted in the context of their three-month struggle. Nikki pinned Carmella with her finisher after dousing her with a fire extinguisher for an extended period.
Carmella's revelation after the match that it was Natalya who had attacked Nikki before Survivor Series set up a storyline going forward—and Natalya's denial in a backstage interview (calling Carmella "a liar") was far from convincing. Expect that to be a focus on Tuesday. And credit to Carmella, who again acquitted herself well on the mic.
(Also credit to Natalya for dropping an Owen Hart reference on the pre-show, saying in regard to Becky Lynch's title reign: "Enough is enough and it's time for a change.")
Banter Corbin Breaks Kalisto
Another patented "surprisingly good pay-per-view match" from Baron Corbin, who is really coming into his own. His victory over Kalisto in a violent chairs match should catapult him up the card.
On Talking Smack, he demanded that Bryan put him in the main event scene, noting that in life there are losers, and winners, and that he's the latter. He also gave out a lesson for the kids: "If at first you don't succeed, just give up."
He drifted after his call up at WrestleMania, but he has taken the opportunities given to him on SmackDown Live and ran with them.
The crowd was strangely bad for the show, not displaying a lot of energy and occasionally doing stuff like a "JBL" chant during the women's championship match. Were this show ran in front of the crowds at Backlash or No Mercy (or, for that matter, any random SmackDown Live), the matches would have a lot more shine on them.
But the crowd couldn't bring down another blistering episode of Talking Smack, which immediately answered the Ellsworth question on everyone's mind, put Baron Corbin over in a big way, and continued the sensational feud between The Miz and Daniel Bryan.