Sunday 14 December 2014

Tables, Ladders, Chairs... and Alternate Universes

At the end of last month’s Survivor Series it looked like things had been set up for an interesting TLC pay-per-view. Looking at the card we’ve ended up with I wonder where it all went wrong. And, to be clear, something definitely has gone wrong, because tonight’s show is not what’s “best for business.” It doesn’t come close to being what’s “best for business.”

I mean, they’re doing John Cena versus Seth Rollins in a tables match, with the stipulation that Cena will lose his world title shot if Rollins wins. I’m sure it will be a decent enough match but there’s little to get excited about with it. The same goes for Harper versus Ziggler. The less said about Kane v Ryback, Big Show v Erick Rowan, and the revival of the Swagger v Rusev feud the better.

This isn’t the worst show WWE could be putting on. But it’s not the best either. I understand that they want to just keep things ticking over until doing the really important stuff at Royal Rumble but they could have done that and presented a better card. Completely disregarding continuity between pay-per-views does nothing for anyone.

Why didn't they give us this beard battle?
Harper and Rowan are the obvious guys to mention at this point. As I’ve written before, they got a promising reception when they squared off with one another at Survivor Series. It made me think that people could be convinced to emotionally invest in a singles match between them, and the exchanges they had made me think they could actually make a match work.

In addition to that both have recently been “set free” by Bray Wyatt, giving them a logical plot reason to clash: they each want to prove they can be the breakout star of that group. Like a sort of sibling rivalry thing, without them being actual siblings. Harper has become one of the go-to heels for WWE since his return. Facing a man of a similar size would have allowed him to demonstrate that he could do something other than throw Dolph Ziggler around and it would have allowed Rowan to progress by association.

It could have been for the Intercontinental title but I think that would have been a step too far. It’s not that Harper’s not a credible champion, but I think the title would be better attached to someone else on the roster. Specifically Ziggler or Rollins. With WWE champion Brock Lesnar absent from television (until he rocks up on RAW after TLC, anyway) the IC champ is the top title holder. That status, emphasised or not, could have helped to boost the standing of Ziggler or Rollins because they’re already positioned as guys close to the top. On Harper the IC title looks like a middle of the card prize. On Ziggler or Rollins it would have been given an enhancement that would have lasted once the WWE championship returned.

There have been plenty of Harper v Ziggler bouts since Survivor Series so it’s obvious WWE isn’t shy about giving us that match. They could have easily had ‘The Show Off’ regain the Intercontinental title in one of those meetings. Done in the right way it could have drawn the Harper v Ziggler series to a close, leaving Ziggler to defend his title against Seth Rollins. In fact it could have even had Rowan interfering, adding to the necessity to have a Harper v Rowan match and keeping Harper strong in defeat. Ziggler v Rollins in a ladder match is a more attractive proposition to pretty much anyone. It would have made both men and the championship mean more, and would have stood more chance of shifting some tickets for the show.

These changes would have left both John Cena and Big Show free. Which is fine, because they were set up as opponents at Survivor Series when ‘The World’s Largest Athlete’ punched Cena in the jaw. A Cena v Show match is not the most exciting thing in the world but it would at least have a reason for happening and keep Cena from harming the momentum of a Rollins or a Harper or a Ziggler. They could even have kept the tables match stipulation, which is (I think) a match they’ve never done in any of their many previous meetings.

Better than Kane v Ryback.
Although it wasn’t directly hinted at at any point a Rusev v Ryback match would have made a great deal of sense. Rusev is undefeated and unsubmitted. Since returning at the end of October ‘The Big Guy’ has been (sloppily) pushed as a dominant babyface, similar to his run in 2012. Although Rybers had suffered pinfall losses he was being presented as “back on form” and could have been built up after Survivor Series as a contender to Rusev’s US championship.

In fairness it’s unlikely that a Ryback versus Rusev match would be as good as a Swagger versus Rusev match. But it would be something new for pay-per-view and wouldn’t be such an obvious re-tread of a rivalry wrapped up just four months earlier. Ryback stood a better chance of convincing people he could defeat ‘The Super Athlete’. Swagger has shown that he can’t get the job done.

It’s also worth noting that Rusev doesn’t generally get the credit he deserves for being able to put together a good match. He’s not afraid to sell, his offence is always on target and looking good, and Ryback can, when the stars align, put on a decent showing. They may have been able to do a better match than expected, especially if they’d been afforded a shortcut-enabling chairs match stipulation.

Tag match, playa!
If creative had really wanted to push the boat out they could even have tweaked the Divas scene. Since failing to regain the championship from AJ at Hell in a Cell Paige has done nothing but work a limp series opposite sometimes-face-sometimes-heel Alicia Fox. With the Bellas reuniting (for reasons still not revealed) at Survivor Series a segment could have been set up where the sisters attacked AJ and Paige came out to even the odds. A Bella twins versus Paige and AJ Lee match would have been a far more interesting prospect than another Divas title match added to the show as a token gesture. It would have allowed for some actual story to be injected into the women’s division too, especially with if they’d stuck with AJ and Paige being uneasy allies working against common foes.

The rest of the card seems promising enough without any changes being made. Wyatt and Ambrose being in a TLC match makes sense. The New Day lads clashing with Goldust and Stardust is, if nothing else, a desperately needed fresh match. With a spot free on the main show that match could have been bumped up from the pre-show. The tag title match has had more storyline progression than anything else on the show thanks to the involvement of Naomi. It’s the most admirable thing WWE have done over the last three weeks.

I don’t think this proposed card (summarised below for simplicity and ease) would have been the absolute best thing ever. Nor do I think it would have been the best possible Tables, Ladders, Chairs… and Stairs show possible. But I do think it would have offered more than what WWE have cooked up.


Proposed card summary:
Bray Wyatt v Dean Ambrose in a TLC match
Dolph Ziggler v Seth Rollins in a ladder match for the Intercontinental championship
Erick Rowan v Luke Harper
John Cena v Big Show in a tables match
Rusev v Ryback for the United States championship
The Bella twins v Paige and AJ Lee
Damien Mizdow and The Miz v The Usos for the tag team championship
The New Day v Goldust and Stardust

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