|Image Source: Beyond Media Online|
Written By: Mark Armstrong
Produced By: WWE
Date: December 14 2014
Location: Quicken Loans Arena, Cleveland, Ohio, USA
The final WWE supercard of 2014, TLC has traditionally been one of the strongest Pay-Per-Views over the last few years. And it proved to the case here as we had a very enjoyable show, and an improvement on TLC from 2013.
(Author’s note: Since TLC 2014, the WWE Network has launched in the United Kingdom, meaning that the pre-PPV Kick-Off shows can now be viewed in the UK. Therefore, I will now be able to cover the KO bouts in more depth going forward; in the case of TLC 2014, the Kick-Off match saw The New Day defeat the combo of Goldust and Stardust.)
The card opened with a Ladder match for the Intercontinental Title, with Luke Harper defending against Dolph Ziggler. It looked odd on paper, as Harper is a rugged, skilfully sluggish brawler, traits which you wouldn’t necessarily associate with the high spot-based Ladder stipulation. Ziggler is a good fit for the match rule, having participated in previous Ladder matches at this show, but I was still wondering what kind of a match these two would have.
Any misgivings about the pairing and the match stipulation proved to be unfounded, as Harper and Ziggler delivered a gripping and brutal Ladder bout. It helped that Dolph had even-louder-than-usual support from his hometown Cleveland audience, but even so the action was engaging and held one’s attention every step of the way. Of note, the two men busted each other open at various points via some stiff blows with the ladders themselves, and Harper could have suffered a serious injury when he attempted a risky tope to Dolph at ringside which led to Harper landing hard arm-first on a ladder. Harper’s bottom rope slingshot into a ladder on Ziggler looked very painful and was the moment which drew blood from Dolph’s cranium. In the end, Ziggler knocked Harper off a parallel ladder and retrieved the gold to regain the Intercontinental Title to a huge ovation. This was a really good Ladder match, far better than I expected, and gives Ziggler added momentum after his Survivor Series main event win in November. As for Harper, he looked strong in defeat and while his IC Title win felt strange at the time, I definitely wouldn’t question the big man winning it back someday.
From heavy-duty violence and stunts to light relief, we next got the WWE Tag Team Title win, as The Usos looked to dethrone The Miz and Damien Mizdow. The stunt double storyline continued here, with Mizdow now having replica Slammy Awards along with his toy Tag Titles. The action was watchable, but as usual it was Mizdow stealing the show on the ring apron mimicking even the slightest of Miz moves and even the moments when Miz was suffering. Best of all was when Damien actually did a handstand to mimic Miz being held up for some time in a vertical suplex.
Unfortunately, while the match delivered suitable entertainment and raised plenty of laughs, the ending only resulted in frowns. The Usos gained a disqualification victory after Miz hit Jimmy Uso with a Slammy, which was a poor way to end a PPV match, especially in the Network era where WWE’s future success truly relies on people wanting to pay for a service that allows them to watch these supershows. A rematch is assured, and it’s possible that the noticeably increasing jealousy by Miz towards Mizdow could lead to a blow-up if Jimmy and Jey Uso do regain the titles, but surely there was a better way to handle this match than a third-rate DQ finish.
Match three pitted Big Show against Erick Rowan in the first ever Stairs match (hence WWE modifying the show name to Tables, Ladders, Chairs … And Stairs, although this is still technically known as TLC). In the run-up to the card, it seemed that this feud was designed primarily to elevate Rowan as a rising star babyface, especially with the efforts also being made to make Bray Wyatt and Luke Harper singles stars away from the original Family. The Stairs stipulation was something different, I suppose, but either way my mind-set was that this match existed purely to give Rowan a big win.
So, it seems odd that we instead saw Big Show pin Erick Rowan. Okay, so Rowan was chokeslammed on the stairs and then suffered a KO punch, and Show actually used the stairs themselves to pin Rowan. But realistically, Rowan has a miniscule chance of now breaking out on his own, at least as a babyface (and he only turned face in mid-November). The sheep mask-wearer needed to win here, so the fact that he didn’t means that this was a step back for his development. You could argue that Big Show needed a win, having turned heel (AGAIN) at Survivor Series and having not win on PPV for a long time, but in the long run it wouldn’t have hurt the giant to lose here, whereas Rowan’s push essentially stopped, perhaps permanently, due to the result of this bout.
It was surprising that WWE chose to put John Cena vs. Seth Rollins on next, and Dean Ambrose vs. Bray Wyatt in the main event spot. With WWE Champ Brock Lesnar not on PPV for the third card running, the show would traditionally be headlined by the most important bout. And with Cena’s future WWE Title shot at stake (and Paul Heyman was at ringside to observe happenings related to the title held by his client), plus the fact that Cena is obviously WWE’s top babyface and Rollins has evolved into becoming one of the company’s main heels, I felt that this Tables match would have been more appropriate as the headline attraction. That said, I have no problem with the choice that WWE made, and is another sign that the company is trying to slowly find a way to move past the era when Cena truly dominated WWE, and to find a direction that brings about a new era.
Regardless of placement, Cena vs. Rollins was a good match. It had a fair amount of interference, at first by J&J Security (who amongst other things cleared up the wreckage of Cena AA’ing Rollins through a table as the referee hadn’t seen it, which culminated in Cena AA’ing both men at once through a table) and later by Big Show. The presentation made it seem like Cena was in jeopardy but it still didn’t quite feel like there was a realistic chance for Cena to lose, especially since WWE had prepared nobody on the babyface side to potentially fight Brock Lesnar if Cena missed his title shot opportunity. It was more about discovering who would save Cena here, and as it turned out, it was Roman Reigns. Making his proper return after emergency hernia surgery in September, Reigns lit up the crowd as he marched through the audience, en route to ringside, and got involved by Superman Punching Show and Spearing him through a table, and then Superman Punching Rollins, which transitioned into Cena putting Seth through a table via the AA to win.
This was a fun bout; not a classic by any means, but it lived up to any reasonable expectations and had several cool spots (one being that both Cena and Rollins simultaneously put each other through two tables at ringside, meaning that the match had to be restarted as there was no clear winner). Cena retained his title shot and, as the commentators revealed afterwards, he will now face Lesnar at Royal Rumble 2015 for the WWE Title (FINALLY, Brock will make an appearance during his title run). Perhaps more notably, though, Reigns revealed in a post-match interview (where he fluffed his words, incidentally) that he was putting himself down as the first official entrant in the Rumble match, which of course earns one a World Title shot at WrestleMania. Was this step one of the Road To WM 31?
AJ Lee’s chance to regain the Divas Title from Nikki Bella followed, but not before a pre-match interview where Brie Bella said that she had buried the hatchet with Nikki before helping her to become the champion at Survivor Series. At least that’s what I think she did; the choice of words was such that, even after her statement, you still felt like we should have got a clearer explanation for Brie’s actions, which were inexplicable considering the verbal and physical abuse that her twin sister had put her through between SummerSlam and Survivor Series.
Regardless, this Divas Title match was alright; it was what it was. It won’t have disappointed anybody, but it won’t really have impressed anyone either. More impressive would have been seeing AJ win the Divas Title back, if only to show that she is likely to stick with WWE after the rumours that she would be leaving following her humiliatingly short loss of the title at Survivor Series. But no: Nikki retained her title after a Brie distraction allowed her to spray an unidentified liquid into AJ’s eyes and hit a Rack Attack for the pin. It isn’t unreasonable to suggest that AJ might still regain the title at some point, but I am thinking that Paige or another Diva is more likely to challenge Nikki next, meaning that a period of on-screen uncertainty awaits AJ. At least she lasted more than a few seconds here, though.
Kane vs. Ryback as a Chairs match was one of those matches which would have been far better on a different event. Okay, so the Chairs stipulation exists primarily for this very card. But at this point, we’d already seen a ton of weapon-related combat, and the upcoming TLC main event meant that we’d get even more object-based spots, which also meant that some big moves would obviously be saved for the headline bout. Therefore, while Kane vs. Ryback was competent, it didn’t have a chance in front of a crowd which had already seen plenty of weapon blows, and probably didn’t need to see any more.
Nevertheless, unlike Show vs. Rowan, at least this match had the right result, as Ryback cleanly pinned Kane with Shell Shocked to continue his comeback after the neglect his character suffered for the better part of a year. The rumour mill suggests that Ryback may be the next challenger for the United States Championship to Rusev, but we’ll have to wait and see if those stories are true. Speaking of Rusev …
The United States Title match between Rusev and Jack Swagger was the odd match of the night. Fair play in terms of having Rusev on the show to defend his crown, but it was poor casting to have Jack Swagger as his opponent. Now, I like Swagger, and he’s still kind of fresh in his babyface role, but let’s not forget that these two met on PPV earlier this year at Battleground and SummerSlam. Rusev won the latter bout by stoppage, and then moved onto bigger things (literally, as Mark Henry was his next foe). And as US Champ, Rusev is clearly heading towards a major role in 2015, which given his undefeated status means that he is unlikely to lose to just ANYBODY. In a nutshell, nobody on Planet Earth must have expected Swagger to win here, even if Jack had conspired with the referee and Vince McMahon to swerve Rusev of the title Montreal-style.
And he didn’t: in contrast to Rusev’s ascent, Swagger’s DESCENT continued here as he lost, again to the Accolade, and in a match which didn’t last too long here. We didn’t even have Zeb Colter at ringside, as Rusev had supposedly injured him in the run-up to this match. For Swagger, the only positive I can think of is that he will get paid some kind of bonus for wrestling on this card, which means that there are basically no positives for him to take from this appearance. For Rusev, though, a major career-making feud is likely to be just around the corner; if it doesn’t happen before the end of 2014, it should definitely be on the Road To WrestleMania.
The main event, as stated earlier, was Dean Ambrose vs. Bray Wyatt under TLC rules. Although Wyatt had cost Ambrose his Hell In A Cell match with Seth Rollins, and made questionable comments about Dean’s father, it still felt like something was missing to make this the absolute war that it promised to be. Okay, so Wyatt tried to destroy Ambrose’s throat with a steel chair, but still I felt that there was a chapter of this story missing for this match to have the desired effect. In the TV-14 days, this could have been resolved with a good old-fashioned bloodbath on TV or PPV, leading to the definitive conclusion with a major stipulation. But those days are gone, for some time at least.
That shouldn’t take away from the tremendous effort that both men put forth to try and make this a TLC match to remember. Of note were the frightening spots whereby Wyatt positioned a kendo stick in the corner and appeared to be trying to blind Ambrose by driving him eye-first into said stick. Ambrose once again displayed his no-fear mentality by following a top rope elbow through a table with a second elbow off a ladder and eventually, after “One More Time!” chants, a third elbow off an even bigger ladder putting Wyatt through an announcer’s table. Victory for Ambrose seemed assured, especially since at this point Wyatt seemed quite dead (and Bray had taken the throat-crusher via a chair into the post that Wyatt had supposedly hospitalised Ambrose with a few weeks ago).
But then Ambrose was vanquished, and by his own doing: having brought a TV monitor into the ring and discovered that the cord was too short, his attempt to resolve the issue led to the monitor exploding in his hands and the distraction leading him to lose by pinfall to Wyatt via Sister Abigail. That Ambrose lost a match he really needed to win was a bit disappointing, and while the match was a tremendous effort, the fact that Wyatt was able to essentially look unscathed after all the punishment he had taken was a negative. Those gripes aside, this was a great effort, and a strong end to a memorable TLC show.
In the end, TLC 2014 served its purpose for the most part. Although it’s the one night of the year that we get a TLC match and other similar matches (well usually, anyway), it is still essentially a B-level PPV. Therefore, it relies on the strength of individual performances and the level of creativity in terms of coming up with unique high-risk spots. Both were of a high standard here, with the opening and closing matches being the highlights of the event, along with an eventful Tables match that saw one of WWE’s rising stars make an unannounced comeback. Add to that a few filler matches which were either entertaining or acted as a step towards enhancing talent in most places, and you have a pretty good card which completed the bridge that leads us to the PPV return of Brock Lesnar at Royal Rumble, and the official beginning of the Road To WrestleMania 31. In wrestling circles, this truly is the time to begin singing “It’s the most wonderful time of the year”; WrestleMania Season is about to commence, and the pre-Season ended on a high note at TLC.
Overall Rating: 8/10 – Very Good