Monday 15 December 2014

Tables, Ladders, Chairs... and Stairs 2014 review

This year's TLC had a tough time of it. Not only did it feature a bevy of matches that didn't follow logically from the previous month's supershow, it also came just three days after NXT's Takeover: R Evolution event (a review of which can be found here). That may have been presented as a lowly Network special featuring developmental talent but it was the best WWE show of the year. Comparisons between the two events are inevitable. Sadly, it was also inevitable that TLC wouldn't measure up.

Following a pre-show on which Big E and Kofi Kingston defeated The Dust Brothers the supercard (which Michael Cole described as WWE's version of a demolition derby) officially kicked off with the Intercontinental championship ladder match. Dolph Ziggler, as the hometown boy, got a massive ovation and immediate chants of "Let's go Ziggler!" at the bell. It helped Harper get some heat too.

Four time IC champ Dolph Ziggler.
The match didn't reach the heights of the famed Razor Ramon v Shawn Michaels ladder clashes or Hardys, Dudleys and Edge and Christian spot-fests but it was a great choice for the opener. They spent the opening minutes throwing ladders at each other, gradually progressing to more impressive stunts. Highlights included a Harper suicide dive (which came close to breaking Harper's arm), a Ziggler drop kick onto a ladder, a Harper power bomb onto a ladder, a ladder-assisted pendulum by Harper, a Ziggler X Factor onto a ladder (which pretty much confirms Ziggler wants a monopoly on all signature moves of former DX members), Harper busting out the Terry Funk special, and, finally, a super kick from one ladder to another by Ziggler. That last was enough to stun Harper long enough for 'The Show Off' to grab the belt for his fourth reign. Both men left bloodied and bruised. They did everything they could to give us a worthwhile match.

The Usos pulled an Owen Hart after that and carried their Slammy awards (for tag team of the year, believe it or not) with them to the ring. They lacked Owen's charm though. Miz pulled the same trick, carrying Damien Mizdow's prestigious LOL Moment of the Year Slammy. Mizdow had a toy version, natch.

As you'd expect the focus of the match was, for the most part, on the antics of Damien Mizdow. ‘The A-Lister’ effectively wrestled a handicap, freeing Mizdow up to lark about and give people what they wanted. Naturally this extended to 'The Awesome One' teasing a tag to Mizdow which he had no intention of making.

Eventually Miz decided he wanted to leave. After grabbing his titles (and his stuntman’s Slammy) Miz sacrificed Mizdow to an Uso dive and then lamped the Uso with a title belt. Yes, they went for a DQ finish and Mizdow never tagged in. This aside it was a decent enough match.

Backstage Seth Rollins recapped The Authority's removal from power and dedicated his match to them. He also mentioned Sting and said he wouldn't leave Cena be until Triple H and Stephanie were reinstated. I imagine this will turn out to be foreshadowing rather than generic heel rambling.

Quality took a dip after that. After the commentary team took a ridiculous look at the "anatomy" of ring steps we were treated to Big Show v Erick Rowan. In, yes, the first ever stairs match. It may very well be the last ever too. Basically it was a stunt match in the vein of table and ladder efforts. But with stairs. As stairs are heavier than chairs and nowhere near as flimsy as WWE’s tables there was little that could be done with them. All the lads managed to muster up was wedging them between ring ropes, stacking them up, and placing them on the announce table. They gingerly bumped into them and the audience got bored. Show won when he used the stairs to pin Rowan down to the mat.

Surprisingly it was the Rollins versus Cena tables match that that followed. Mercury and Noble accompanied Rollins to the ring, allowing their man to control the first several minutes fairly easily with copious interference. Cena, being Cena, got tired of that quickly and disposed of them with a suplex onto a guardrail and, less dramatically, an AA into the timekeeper's corner. That left just the two men officially in the match. Rollins immediately set up tables at ringside and tried to suplex Cena through them. Cena countered and suplexed him back into the ring. Rollins hit a standing Sliced Bread and tried to whip Cena through a table propped up in the corner. Predictably Cena halted that and back dropped Rollins out of the ring.

Look at the state of that briefcase.
'Mr Money in the Bank' returned with his briefcase and gave Cena a walloping with it. Cena kicked Rollins in the head as he was bent over mocking the Five Knuckle Shuffle taunt then tried to AA him through a table, accidentally taking out the referee as he did (oh no!). Rollins landed on his feet from the attempted AA, vaulted back over the table and Cena, and hit an enziguri that just happened to send Cena sprawling onto the table. Rollins headed to the top rope for a Curb Stomp but Cena caught him and AAed him through the table.

Cole announced Cena was victorious but (shock!) the ref was still slumped at ringside. Noble and Mercury returned to clean up the broken table and then gave Cena a kicking. Cena quickly escaped a Shield-esque power bomb and put the stooges through a table with a double AA. Seconds later Cena and Rollins locked up on the apron and leapt through a table at ringside. So much for tables matches being a way to give us a decisive winner without anyone doing the job, right?

Two referees showed up to argue about who'd won. Match official Mike Chioda couldn't decide on a winner so he restarted the match, rendering the entire double finish exercise pointless. Cena and Rollins began hammering at each other and spilled out to the commentary desks, where Cena AAed Rollins onto the English table. It didn't break so Cena got back into the ring to setup up yet another table.

Big Show returned to put a stop to that. Then he teased choke slamming Cena through a table. It seemed designed to rub our noses in the fact that Cena and Show would have been natural opponents for this show (see here for more on this). The choke slam didn't happen. Instead ‘The Giant’ was distracted by the music of Roman Reigns, he stormed through the crowd (to a healthy response), cracked Show with a Superman punch and speared him through a table. Rollins got a Superman punch too, then took an AA through a table to give Cena the victory.

As table matches go it wasn't bad. What it lacked in spots it made up for in interference, which is a viable way of making these sorts of things exciting. That said it didn't really do Rollins any favours. Even with The New Stooges and 'The World's Largest Athlete' watching out for him he couldn't get the win. The Reigns interference did little to offset that. He was very portrayed clearly as a man not in Cena's league.

After some pointless babble from Alex Riley and Booker T we were shown Byron Saxton interviewing the Bella twins. Nikki declared AJ was jealous of her. Brie said she was sick of people judging their relationship. Basically they're back together and we need to deal with that. No logical plot developments here. Move along.

Nikki Bella: too fabulous to sweat this match.
Nikki dominated the match. Brie was pretty much a non-factor for the most part, which was a pleasant surprise. The match was dull, with another finish designed to show us Nikki goes for the cheapest win possible: as Brie was being sent backstage (for her first real bit of interference in the match) Nikki pulled a bottle from her sock, sprayed AJ with it, and then hit the Rack Attack. 

Tom Phillips then had a chat with Roman Reigns. ‘The Empire’ stumbled over his words, then briefly forgot his words, then told us he was officially entering the Royal Rumble. If he didn't take acting lessons while he was off he should have done. If he did they didn't have any effect.

The chairs match between Kane and Ryback was boring and clumsy. 'The Big Guy' pinned Kane via Shellshock. That was followed by the United States title match. They didn't go for as long as they did in their Battleground or SummerSlam matches. This was perhaps because it was a rehash and Rusev needed to be shown to have improved since August. He won after Swaggalag passed out in The Accolade.

Then a Royal Rumble ad aired, focusing on the WWE title match that will take place between challenger John Cena and champion Brock Lesnar. Odd considering the match had been confirmed less than an hour before. It's almost like wrestling's fixed.

Dean Ambrose and Bray Wyatt had the honour of closing the show. For the second month in a row the hype video made the rivalry look far more layered, interesting and entertaining than it has been. WWE's production team earned their money with that one. Ambrose sauntered to the ring with a ladder slung over his arm, a ladder he lobbed at Wyatt as soon as the lights came on after his entrance. They brawled in the aisle, over to the announce area, and into the audience.

They finally entered the ring several minutes into the bout. Ambrose introduced kendo sticks and chairs. Not to be outdone Wyatt punched Ambrose off the top rope through a table set up at ringside, then used the kendo stick himself. In time ladders were used too. But none of it really meant anything. They were progressing through WWE's established hierarchy of weaponry to escalate the stakes but they were doing it because it was expected, not because it made sense for the story the match was telling. This is not to say the pair were going through the motions because they weren't. It's just that they didn't have a sufficient number of ideas for the gimmick and time they had.

One of many elbow drops.
The big tricks (if you can call them that) they had were saved for the final third of the bout. 'The Lunatic Fringe' twice leapt off a ladder to elbow drop Wyatt through a table. Wyatt came back with a flash Sister Abigail back in the ring. Ambrose responded with Dirty Deeds. When that failed Ambrose grabbed Jeff Hardy's Super Tall Ladder™ and propped it up near the announce desks. Wyatt, who'd had several minutes of recovery time, attacked Ambrose with a chair, only to get laid out on the good old Spanish announce desk. Which Ambrose elbow dropped him thorough, obvs.

The ending came straight from the Wacky Finish Handbook. Ambrose rolled Wyatt back into the ring and grabbed a TV monitor which was plugged in beneath the ring (it's standard practice for WWE to have televisions showing their live pay-per-view stashed below the ring according to Maggle Cole). When he ran across the ring with it to thump Wyatt it "shorted out", causing some sparks and a small amount of smoke to puff out near Ambrose's ear. 'The Eater of Worlds' got up and scored with another Sister Abigail for the win.

The match would have benefited from being ten minutes shorter. They didn't have the material to fill half an hour and they couldn't keep the fast pace needed to hold attention for that long. Credit to WWE for putting them on last though.

TLC wasn't awful but it was the worst WWE pay-per-view in a while. Opener aside nothing stood out as particularly good. But it was at least more rewarding than the average RAW, and considering the emphasis WWE place on TV over pay-per-view nowadays that should probably be chalked up as an accomplishment. Coming so soon after Takeover: R Evolution, to which it couldn't measure up, definitely didn’t help either. It makes you wonder why WWE is sticking with the approach that led them to TLC when the approach that led to R Evolution has proven far more creatively satisfying. It's time for them to get out of their rut and so something new. The NXT formula writ large is the way to go.


Results summary:
Dolph Ziggler defeated Luke Harper for the Intercontinental championship
The Miz and Damien Mizdow defeated The Usos
Big Show defeated Erick Rowan
John Cena defeated Seth Rollins
Nikki Bella defeated AJ Lee
Ryback defeated Kane
Rusev defeated Jack Swagger
Bray Wyatt defeated Dean Ambrose

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