Remember a few months ago when Jack Swagger and Rusev had some surprisingly enjoyable matches on pay-per-view? Don’t worry if you don’t because TLC’s going to feature them in another match against one another. WWE’s creative team apparently enjoyed Swagger versus Rusev so much that they've decided to revive the feud, despite it being drawn to a logical conclusion just four months ago at SummerSlam.
This, in a nutshell, is what's wrong with TLC. Not Rusev versus Swagger specifically. That will probably end up being good. No, what's wrong is that there’s very little thought being put into the show as a whole.
On the one hand it could be argued that with Royal Rumble next month WWE should be hoarding their fresh matches and thoughts for then. It is, after all, their second biggest show of the year and the starting point of their annual hot period. But that's not an argument I agree with. A monthly special event is one of the key selling points of the WWE Network. Making these shows worth people's time should be a high priority. Because there will be subscribers only in it for the pay-per-view savings, and if the shows aren’t very good sooner or later those people will be driven off. They're unlikely to unsubscribe before Royal Rumble, or ‘Mania, but they could still leave in the long run based on a string of uninspiring shows, to which TLC could contribute.
The other main reason I disagree is that WWE employs enough people to churn out a sufficient number of monthly wrestling-applicable ideas. They have dozens of people working for them from wrestling and TV production backgrounds. Putting together a satisfying pay-per-view card each month should not be a difficulty for them.
Aside from Rusev v Swagger we have Ambrose v Wyatt, Ziggler v Harper, and Cena v Rollins rematches. We also have Kane v Ryback, not a rematch (at least not a recent or memorable one) but also not particularly exciting. The most interesting brand new match TLC has to offer is The Miz and Damien Mizdow defending the tag titles against the Usos, and even that’s being generous because both teams were involved in the same four-way match last month.
So, let’s run through those in order. Rusev v Swagger seems like a safe bet for a Rusev win. Swagger fell to him at SummerSlam and has done nothing of note since. It’s a step back for ‘The Super Athlete’, but one that is presumably only happening because WWE doesn’t know what to do with him before he gets booked strongly in the Royal Rumble. I can’t see any reason Swagger would win this.
Ambrose and Wyatt’s Tables, Ladders and Chairs match could be excellent but it’s not a guaranteed thing. Their singles match at Survivor Series wasn’t the electrifying exchange that was expected and their rivalry as whole has not come close to what it could have been. Instead of two rising stars talking about how beating the other can set them apart and help them move closer to the top, or Ambrose wanting revenge on Bray for costing him his feud-closing Hell in a Cell match with Seth Rollins, we’ve had stuff about Ambrose’s jailbird father and Wyatt teleporting around arenas. Oh and pumpkins and ambulances have been used too. A thematic mess and a creative shambles in other words. It feels like a chance to give two men who should be considered future headliners a classic programme has been squandered.
On the plus side the main reason their Survivor Series match wasn’t all it could have been is that it was booked as an extended advert for their TLC collision. They were working towards a shmoz without wanting to give too much away. Without such (peculiar) restrictions at TLC they should be able to do something better. Plus the Tables, Ladders and Chairs gimmick itself is generally worthwhile and tough to get wrong.
An Ambrose win seems likeliest. Wyatt doesn’t have to take a pin or submission to lose and Ambrose did the honours at Survivor Series, albeit by DQ. WWE might deviate from their formula of keeping things even but it’s not likely.
Dolph Ziggler v Luke Harper is a match I’d be looking forward to more if they hadn’t had so many matches on RAW and SmackDown over the last month. Harper’s great as a wild-eyed madman and Ziggler takes a great bump. They’re excellent together. Making it a ladder match seems a bit odd, but it at least adds something new for them to work with, and of every match on the card I think they’re the guys who could do most with a ladder.
I’m going to predict they’ll have the match of the night and Ziggler will regain the IC title. Considering the recent positioning of him as the number two guy he needs the win, and as with Wyatt v Ambrose, Harper can lose a ladder match without being “weakened” by taking a pin.
The Cena v Rollins match is, in fairness, not as familiar as it could be. They’ve had one singles match on TV in the last several months and that ended in disqualification. They’ve met in tag matches over the last few weeks, but that’s not quite the same as loading up on singles matches between them. The trouble is that while they’re not wrestled much (on TV at least) they’ve interacted a lot. So much so that it feels like they’ve had more matches than they actually have.
But then, who else was Cena going to face? Big Show was the only other realistic option and while it would have made sense to go with him I can’t really argue their match would have been better than something involving Seth Rollins. This is another example of the December PPV having the unenviable task of having to kill time before Royal Rumble (apparently the December leading into the Rumble is out of the question), and suffering from not being able to having access to any of the protected storylines that will begin there.
Two things are noteworthy about this match. Firstly, Cena will lose his number on contendership status should he lose. Secondly, it’s a tables match and Cena has a history of not doing especially well in those (it’s a handy way for him to lose without losing). It could be that the plan is to have Cena lose here and give the Rumble match with Lesnar to somebody else. Perhaps doctors have told WWE Daniel Bryan will be ready for a return by late January. Or maybe someone’s finally cottoned on to the fact that they haven’t done Orton v Lesnar since both became major stars over a decade ago. A Cena loss is what I’d like to see here. Pretty much anyone else challenging Lesnar would interest me more than Cena facing him for a third time in six months.
Kane and Ryback’s match will be the pits. If it’s not positioned as a toilet break something will have gone wrong somewhere. ‘The Big Guy’ should win.
Team Miz versus the Uso brothers should be a good match. Everyone loves Mizdow’s antics and WWE has a good story going on with Miz holding him down. There’s also the Naomi thread that’s been introduced over the last few weeks. ‘The A-Lister’ has apparently seen something in her and Jimmy Uso, her husband, has taken exception to this. So there’s a good chance Naomi will cost the Usos the straps, likely in a by-accident-on-purpose kind of way, and join up with Miz for the bounty of Hollywood opportunities he can offer her.
Not mentioned above, we have AJ Lee challenging Nikki Bella for the Divas championship. For those keeping track this will be the sixth pay-per-view in a row to feature AJ in the Divas title match. That’s pretty impressive considering she’s lost the title twice during that time. The show’s pretty crammed so they probably won’t get much time. Hopefully they’ll get longer than the handful of seconds they had at Survivor Series though. I imagine Nikki will retain. An AJ win isn’t impossible but it’s hard to see what it would achieve to put the belt on her so soon after she last lost it.
Finally there’s Erick Rowan versus Big Show in a stairs match. The stairs in question are the steel ones from the ring corners. Personally I’m disappointed they’re not meeting in a chairs match. That would have given Show the opportunity to bust out his XL chair from TLC 2012.
But that’s not what we have. What we have is a man who turned on John Cena at the last pay-per-view, almost costing Cena his job, facing a big lad with a fondness for cuddly toys, Rubik’s cubes, and Renee Young, and who has an upside-down Sheamus face. Survivor Series showed that Rowan could get the crowd to respond to him when squaring off with Luke Harper. Hopefully he knows how to make them do the same against someone else. I’m not going to get my hopes up though. Something tells me this match will be an eyesore. Big Show will probably win, just to make it that little bit worse.
TLC doesn’t look like the worst WWE supershow of the year (on reflection that was probably Battleground, for the record) but it also doesn’t look as though it’s going to be particularly satisfying. Still, there are only six and a half weeks until Royal Rumble! That’s something to look forward to.
Predictions summary:Dean Ambrose to defeat Bray Wyatt
Seth Rollins to defeat John Cena
Dolph Ziggler to defeat Luke Harper for the Intercontinental championship
The Miz and Damien Mizdow to defeat the Usos via Naomi shenanigans
Nikki Bella to defeat AJ Lee
Big Show to defeat Erick Rowan
Rusev to defeat Jack Swagger
Ryback to defeat Kane