|Image Source: Bleacher Report|
Written By: Mark Armstrong
Produced By: WWE
Date: December 15 2013
Location: Toyota Center, Houston, Texas, USA
The fifth annual Pay-Per-View event dedicated to the objects known as tables, ladders and chairs (oh, my!), TLC 2013 took on an additional level of importance due to the significance of its main event. For the first time in over 11 years, there would only be one World Champion after TLC was all said and done, and the man who would receive this honour would be decided in a championship unification match between reigning WWE Champion Randy Orton and recently-crowned World Heavyweight Champion John Cena, rekindling their old rivalry (or rivalries) in – yes! – a TLC match. Who would win this historic match to become the undisputed WWE World Heavyweight Champion? We would have to wait and see.
After Fandango surprisingly beat Dolph Ziggler on the pre-show (which doesn’t say much for Ziggler’s career prospects right now), TLC 2013 opened with CM Punk taking on The Shield in a 3-on-1 handicap match. What a difference a year makes: in late 2012, Punk as WWE Champion allegedly used The Shield to ensure that the title remained around his waist, with Seth Rollins, Roman Reigns and Dean Ambrose making their official WWE in-ring debut in a phenomenal TLC match opposite Ryback and Team Hell No at the 2012 TLC event. One year on, in the first match on the show, Punk was now fighting the Hounds Of Justice all on his lonesome. Punk vs. Rollins and Punk vs. Ambrose were the better parts of this match, which provided a good start to the card. That isn’t a knock on Reigns at all; it’s just because Punk’s wrestling style complements that of Rollins and Ambrose more smoothly. The big man had his moments to shine too, although his momentum was halted by a fairly serious eye injury suffered during the match. This may or may not been orchestrated as it partly contributed to the finish of the match, which saw Reigns accidentally Spear his Shield partner Ambrose, leading Punk to get Roman out of the ring and pin Ambrose to get the against-the-odds victory.
That Punk managed to beat all of The Shield without any outside interference was a surprise (even though Reigns’ bungled teamwork did give Punk the extra bit of luck he needed to triumph), although it’s not like Punk really needed the win. The Shield may not have necessarily benefitted from beating Punk with 3-on-1 odds, but they were certainly harmed by the fact that they suffered a 3-on-1 defeat; don’t forget, The Shield went several months before losing for the first time, and that was in a 3-on-3 environment. It’s possible that the miscommunication at the end marks step one of a Shield split, which wouldn’t be the best idea at this point in my opinion. WWE does need to do something drastic though, because The Shield have cooled off significantly in recent times, and Roman Reigns’ dominant display at Survivor Series will have been a waste if it is downhill from here for the trio.
Natalya was selected to challenge AJ Lee for the Divas Title after having made AJ submit at Survivor Series, and it was a wise choice: though she is rarely pushed and has an almost non-existent character, Natalya is definitely one of WWE’s better female wrestlers. With AJ having delivered way above expectations this year, it was hoped that AJ and Natalya would deliver a memorable women’s match here and that’s exactly what we got, with some fine chain wrestling and some nice submission sequences and close calls (for both potential tap outs and near-falls) throughout the match. In her biggest match for some time, Natalya demonstrated her strong wrestling skills once again, and AJ proved once more why she is the undisputed top female in WWE right now. In an end, further submission exchanges to lock in/escape the Sharpshooter and Black Widow, and some attempted but ultimately foiled interference by AJ’s heavy Tamina Snuka, culminated in AJ surprising Natalya with a roll-up for the pinfall victory.
It wasn’t surprising that AJ won, and as noted the match quality wasn’t exactly a shocker either; the deceivingly good AJ and the accomplished Natalya were always likely to deliver the goods, and they provided the best Divas Title match since the AJ-Kaitlyn feud in the summer. Whilst WWE is short on serious challengers who can actually wrestle for AJ right now, with the championship around her waist, the Divas division is in a good place at the end of 2013, and this bout caps off what has to be the best year for WWE women’s wrestling since the days of Trish Stratus and Lita, what with Kaitlyn’s big win over Eve back in January, the surprisingly-excellent matches in the AJ-Kaitlyn feud, AJ’s so-called Pipe Bomb-shell speech back in August, and the strong display by AJ and Natalya here. (From a business standpoint, the debut of Total Divas on E! is the icing on the cake for the WWE women in 2013.)
Next up, Damien Sandow challenged Big E Langston for the Intercontinental Title. It’s been a strange year for Sandow: beginning in the Team Rhodes Scholers combo with Cody Rhodes, which included their scheduled match for WrestleMania 29 cut for time, Sandow broke the team up when he surprisingly won one of the Money In The Bank Ladder matches, stabbing Cody in the back in the process. But after losing their subsequent feud, Sandow lost his MITB cash-in match against World Champion John Cena, and has floundered and lost comedy matches ever since. Therefore, the chances of Sandow leaving TLC with Big E’s Intercontinental Title were remote at best, especially since Langston only defeated Curtis Axel for the IC Title around a month before this title defence.
And that theory proved to be correct: after a competent but unspectacular match, Langston finished Sandow off with the Big Ending. Big E ends his own year of peaks and valleys on a bit of a high and, since the World Titles would be unified later on, Langston finds himself holding WWE’s second most important title as the year ends. For Sandow, 2014 could prove to be a pretty tough year; his character has taken a lot of damage over the last few months, and it’s clear that for the time being at least, he does not figure into WWE’s plans. It’s possible that his career will rebound, but if recent results are anything to go by, it could be a long time before Sandow is given a genuine push and a meaningful role on the card again – if he even receives such opportunities.
Following this, we had a Fatal Four Way elimination tag team match for (of course) the WWE Tag Team Titles, which saw The Brotherhood team of Cody Rhodes and Goldust defend against Curtis Axel and Ryback, The Real Americans squad of Jack Swagger and Antonio Cesaro, and the unusual pairing of Big Show and Rey Mysterio (Little and Large?). The action in the first two sections was standard, with Goldust pinning the rapidly-plummeting Ryback to eliminate him and Axel, and Big Show knocking out Cesaro to dispatch him and Swagger from the bout. The final stretch was superb, with the Rhodes brothers attacks on Show being logical and eye-catching, and Mysterio’s rapid-fire offence lead him to great near-falls. The match finally ended with Cody nailing Mysterio with Cross Rhodes for the win, which says a lot about WWE’s opinions on Cody (the recipient of a nice push alongside Goldust) and Mysterio (who hasn’t won a significant match since his return from injury in November) right now. Nevertheless, this was a fantastic end to the match. The final third of this encounter was the in-ring highlight of the evening.
Cody and Goldust have, almost without notice, evolved into WWE’s strongest and most reliable tag team, with yet another fine display here, capped off with some brilliant sequences alongside Rey Mysterio. WWE should be in no hurry to take the titles off of The Brotherhood, as their performances over the last few months combined with the steadily-increasing number of tag teams on the roster right now suggest that 2014 might be a good year for tag teams in WWE. Or it’s possible that WWE loses interest in Cody and Goldust, splits up some teams, and the division takes another tumble. But, hey, let’s stay positive (Diamond Dallas Page would approve of this thought process) and hope for the best.
We had a bonus match next, although from an entertainment standpoint it didn’t really enhance the quality of the show. Brodus Clay vs. R-Truth was the culmination of Clay’s unexpected heel turn, which came about in strange circumstances: Brodus, the big Funkasaurus, disliked the fact that newcomer Xavier Woods and R-Truth had danced with the Funkadactyls using the Funkadactyl/Funkasaurus/Who-gives-a-funk entrance theme. Long story short, Clay is now a heel and no longer associated with the funkier members of the roster, and Truth (with Woods, Naomi, Cameron and Sweet T/Tensai in his corner) was here to teach the big man a lesson. This historically leads to the monster dismantling the babyface with a view to preparing him for bigger things, especially since Brodus is just moving away from what essentially was a two-year run as a comedy character.
But that wasn’t the case: following some tepid action, and Clay arguing with and becoming distracted by his former friends, Truth rolled the former Funkasaurus up for the win. The babyfaces all celebrated together afterwards by dancing while Clay, the heel, left having essentially been outnumbered by the good guys (and gals). Is it just me or would Brodus be cheered and the others be booed in this scenario? More to the point, how does this scenario, from Brodus turning heel because someone danced to his music to losing his first PPV match since turning bad, help his career? Only Xavier, who is now on main roster television, and maybe Truth (who hasn’t been used much in recent months) are likely to benefit from this situation, and even then it will only be minimal.
Kofi Kingston and The Miz had a squabble on the pre-show, stemming from a strange series of events in recent weeks (Miz turned heel on Kofi by refusing a tag during a Raw doubles bout, then he actually pinned Kofi clean before Survivor Series, yet it was the babyface Kofi who kept their feud going and led them to the pre-show disapproval), which resulted in a No Disqualification match here at TLC. Unfortunately, the crowd were not really interested in the action, even shouting the dreaded “Boring!” chant. In the last year, many WWE matches have been plagued fans who suddenly become disinterested regardless of what was happening before them. Here, though, they had good reason: this WAS dull. The No DQ stipulation made little difference, and the combination of Kofi losing all steam as a babyface and Miz’ rushed heel turn, combined with some generally run-of-the-mill action, all resulted in a forgettable PPV encounter, and one that the participants would certainly like to eliminate from their minds once it had ended. Kofi did win on this occasion, ending an overly-long and dreary match with Trouble In Paradise.
Given that Kofi Kingston and The Miz have had some pretty good matches against one another in the past, and they know each other’s styles very well at this point, their No Disqualification match was a big disappointment. Nobody was expecting absolute carnage, but it’s safe to say that the two men didn’t bring their A-game on this night. Miz is clearly floundering, what with another sudden turn and now this supercard stinkbomb, and Kingston has that dreaded vibe of someone whose career is on a one-way trip down the card. This match was the low point of the show, which is a shame because Kofi and Miz rarely reach the depths of this particular battle. Granted, it was only one match, and they would probably deliver a much-improved display should they meet again, but with a crucial time of the WWE calendar approaching, neither man’s efforts did themselves any favours here.
We then got the second 3-on-1 handicap match of the evening as Daniel Bryan battled the entire Wyatt Family (Bray Wyatt, Luke Harper and Erick Rowan). It’s rare for WWE to have one 3-on-1 match on PPV, and here we got two. Bryan’s task seemed tougher than that of Punk because the Wyatts remain a somewhat unknown entity, and all three are much bigger in size than the man who they were facing. Bray stayed out of proceedings at first, allowing Harper and Rowan to repel any Bryan offence where possible and work over the smaller opponent. Wyatt eventually came in the ring to beat up Bryan, and the crowd popped when Bray did his spider-walk (they chanted “that was creepy!”). Bray actually offered Bryan the chance to end the pummelling by joining them but Bryan, backed up by the audience of course, said “No!” Bryan remained on the defensive, particularly after a Harper powerbomb, but Bryan did eventually manage to build up a comeback with dropkicks, suplexes and kicks, much to the approval of the audience. It wouldn’t be enough to see him through to the finish line, though, as Wyatt avoided the Yes Lock and nailed Bryan with Sister Abigail for the win.
Unlike the opener which saw Punk outsmart and defeat The Shield, here the numbers game and the double- and triple-team tactics proved too great for the disadvantaged competitor, and so Bryan succumbed to Wyatt. This feud is likely to continue, so it’s not a massive setback for Bryan, and it gives Wyatt and friends a boost in the run-up to what will likely be Danny Boy’s revenge-achieving win over Bray. That being said, it’s a comedown for Bryan after his main event adventures, and it’s hard to figure how Bryan will enter the headline bracket anytime soon, at least in terms of trying to convince WWE’s booking squad that he deserves another chance (especially during WrestleMania Season).
And so we come to the headline attraction which would unify WWE’s two top titles. Despite the somewhat rushed build-up, and the lack of an acknowledgement for Chris Jericho (who first unified the WWF and WCW/World Titles at Vengeance 2001), this was still a big match with a unification that fans had been awaiting for many years. The early going was the usual Cena-Orton stuff (their exchanges remain familiar despite having not fought one-on-one on a PPV for four years, which shows just how many matches they’ve had in the past), and they began using a ladder, table and most notably a steel chair as a weapon towards one another. Both men would make attempts to climb the ladder and retrieve the double-championship prize, and both men would foil their aspirations in violent fashion, although there weren’t many notable spots in the first half of this TLC match, certainly not to the level of previous TLC battles.
That said, the action was still watchable, and their star power and the significance of the occasion made for a dramatic atmosphere as both looked to be the one that unified the World Championships. Cena hit a Five Knuckle Shuffle off a ladder onto Orton, and later used a ladder to drive Orton through a ringside table. Orton was accidentally cut open shortly afterwards, and his night got worse when Cena nailed him with an Attitude Adjustment through an announcer’s table. The Viper mounted a comeback, or at least he set his comeback in motion, when he produced a set of handcuffs and attached Cena to the bottom rope. But as Orton climbed the ladder, confident of victory, Cena unscrewed the bottom rope from its ring post hinge (in a sequence too similar to what CM Punk did back at TLC 2011) and stopped Orton, only for Orton to use the rope to which Cena remained attached to drag him off the ladder and send him into a table. Cena didn’t actually go through the upright table; his head bounced painfully off the wood and only partially broke the table. But it was still enough to allow Orton to climb the ladder and unhook the gold apparatus to which both championships were attached to win the match and be crowned the undisputed WWE World Heavyweight Champion. The Authority came out afterwards, as did Vince McMahon in his first appearance since August, although their cameo was unmemorable as they congratulated Orton on his big win.
So, Randy Orton proved that he is, in storyline terms, the Face Of WWE by winning this huge match. As the sole World Champion in the company, Orton is now in the strongest position of his career, although it feels like something is currently missing from Orton’s act if we are to look back in the future and suggest that this was his prime. Whilst he has main evented every PPV for months now, and most of his supercard performances have been good or very good, none of his PPV matches thus far since the summer have approached the brilliant level of his 2011 feud with Christian, and whilst this match with Cena was enjoyable, the two men have had better matches in previous years. WWE remains committed to the Orton push and rightfully so, but he needs to step it up another level if he is to completely justify his position as the main man in the company, at a time when fans are clamouring for the likes of Daniel Bryan and CM Punk to take centre stage (and other contenders like Cena and possibly Brock Lesnar, once he returns again, will be challenging for Orton’s top spot).
As for TLC as a whole: it was just alright. The closing sequence of the Tag Team Title match was the highlight of the show from an in-ring standpoint. There were standout moments in other matches on the card too, but it didn’t wow you in the way that the TLC PPV has in the past. It was an improvement on Survivor Series, not least because the top match had a much greater reason to exist and because the results of the top matches here were less predictable, but it won’t be remembered with a huge amount of fondness, and was probably the weakest of the five TLC supershows to date. It still had its moments, so it was far from a rubbish card, and the main event gives it historical significance, but overall WWE will need to provide more for its fans as we take the initial steps on the Road To WrestleMania XXX.
Overall Rating: 6.5/10 – Okay