Wrestling Review: WWE TLC 2018

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Image Source: Wrestle Yard

Written By: Christopher Rigby

Greetings wrestling fans! With the main event draws being noticeably absent, TLC was a PPV ripe for the taking. All that was needed was for some opportunistic superstars to cease that much talked-about ‘brass ring’ and steal the spotlight. With a card that boasted Seth Rollins vs. Dean Ambrose and Daniel Bryan vs. AJ Styles, and a triple threat TLC match, this seemed like a done deal. Unfortunately, with the exception of the main event, this golden opportunity to end 2018 on a high was never quite reached.

Mixed Match Challenge Final
Jinder Mahal & Alicia Fox vs. R-Truth & Carmella

Kicking off the main part of TLC was a match that belonged on the pre-show. The culmination of its second season, the Mixed Match Challenge got its big blow-off in San Jose. With the number 30 spot in both Rumbles and an all-expenses-paid vacation up for grabs, this match had so many stipulations you’d think Vince Russo was backstage.

As R-Truth and Carmella hyped the crowd as they make their way down the ramp, I knew I wasn’t going to get the fast-paced opener that I wish would open every PPV. Instead of giving me a match that would suck me into the show, what followed was a glorified dark match, the action was sloppy, spots were mistimed and, aside from Truth and Carmella hyping up the crowd, little went right.

But this is an opening match on the PPV before the Rumble, so wrestling should be the last thing on my mind. This match was about “sports-entertainment”, and damn it, sports entertain it did. There was a dance break, constant grandstanding and playing to the live crowd, and antics involving The Singh brothers and Alicia Fox, capped off by Truth declaring Stamford, Connecticut a ‘cultural epicentre’ and his destination of choice after winning the match. The hokey poorly-planned act got a few chuckles from the crowd, but not enough to cover up the stench of a house show warm-up.

Verdict: A poor match with a few cheap gags thrown in. The weaknesses of all its participants were on full display. A match worth skipping.

SmackDown Tag Team Championship Triple Threat Match
The Bar (C) vs. The New Day vs. The Usos

The Bar, The Usos and The New Day are no strangers to each other. Delivering great matches in the past in varying different combinations, some of the best matches in WWE last year were held by these teams. In the hard-to-master triple threat tag match, its dreaded flaw claimed another three victims, as one team was always left standing on the apron.

Dictating a slow pace, Cesaro and Sheamus dominated the first part of the match, cutting off New Day duo Woods and Kingston keeping The Usos on the outside. Deliberately struggling to get out of first gear, it wasn’t until The Usos got the hot tag that the pace changed and all three teams stepped up their game. Following a great five-minute exchange, ending with a particularly nice springboard DDP by Woods, the match turned into a brawl, allowing Sheamus to get the win after a distraction from Cesaro, meaning that The Bar retained.

Verdict: A fun fast-paced match that was hindered slightly by the triple threat stipulation.

TLC Match
Braun Strowman vs. Baron Corbin

Rarely does WWE acknowledge its own failures, but with ratings at an all-time low for this era, the powers that be have thought “f*** it, let’s make an angle out of it”. Pointing the finger (at least a kayfabe finger) at acting General Manager Baron Corbin for the low viewership, this TLC match (although angle would be a more fitting description) is WWE killing two birds with one stone, wiping the slate clean of the Corbin regime and showcasing an injured Braun Strowman.

The outcome may have felt inevitable, but the angle was good, thanks to the charisma of the booming giant that is Braun Strowman. Strolling to the ring determined to win the match via forfeit, Corbin has a new-found confidence in his GM role that has earned him a mixture of legitimate and go-away heat.

Sadly, acting GM Corbin’s sweet default victory slipped through his fingers as Strowman had other plans. Recruiting all the wrestlers the GM has wronged over the past few weeks, Finn Balor, Chad Gable, Bobby Roode, Apollo Crews, newly-instated referee Heath Slater and Kurt Angle all jumped at the chance to help Braun and get their revenge. The match was quick, painless, and again more angle than action. Braun steamrolling through Corbin without having to lift a finger is a great concept and keeps the ball smoothly rolling toward Strowman’s match against Lesnar.

Yet for all the fun of the match there is another angle behind it that was blown off prematurely, that of the downtrodden ref Heath Slater. Before you berate me, internet, hear me out. This angle had a legitimately hated heel, a sympathetic and beloved character in Heath Slater and a great gimmick in the ref being forced to make dodgy calls for the sake of his job. He’s got kids, dammit! Having Slater under the thumb of Corbin for months, only to finally reach breaking point, would have been a great storyline; maybe not main event great, but entertaining, hell yes. Sadly, a feud like that requires time and patience, something that WWE has conditioned us not to expect, but I can always dream.

Verdict: A fun, well-executed angle. Strowman ploughing through anyone is always a laugh.

Tables Match
Ruby Riott vs. Natalya

Feuds centring on the death of a wrestler has never been considered tasteless in WWE eyes, usually conducted under the blanket pretence of “It’s what they would have wanted”. From Rey Mysterio’s 2006 title run to CM Punk’s match against The Undertaker at WrestleMania 29, the reference and borderline exploitation of a wrestler’s deaths is part of WWE’s past, present and probably future. With the recent passing of Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart, WWE had the genius idea of throwing his name into Natalya’s feud with Ruby Riott to spice things up. Far be it from me to know the last wishes of Jim Neidhart, but I don’t know how Anvil would feel if he saw his death being used as an angle for such a trite feud.

Adding an unnecessary level of seriousness to a damp feud, the use of Neidhart’s passing was like using a flamethrower to light a candle. With each passing week, Riott’s cartoonish actions felt more and more out of tone with what is essentially a woman fighting for her dead father’s honour. This jumbled mix of themes carried over into the match itself. All smiles as she walks down to the ring, aside from calling Riott a bitch a few times, Natalya never rose above being slightly irritated. The match itself was forgettable, with the biggest pops coming when each member of the Riott Squad were put through a table, and ending with Riott going through a table with her picture on it.

Verdict: The low point of the night; the use of Neidhart’s death was cheap heat, an utter waste.

Drew McIntyre vs. Finn Balor

With the worst out of the way, Finn Balor butting heads with Drew McIntyre is where TLC really began to turn itself around. With all the hokey fun and games out of the way, Balor and McIntyre put on a serious match, showing that the company’s mid-card is as strong as it’s ever been.

Booked as an absolute monster, Drew McIntyre continues to impress since his return. Going back and forth with blistering chops, the two men went hell for leather with some creative offence, including a side-slam from the second rope.

Delivering hard-hitting crisp moves at a fast pace, Finn and Drew is a feud that I want to see more of. And with the match ending with Ziggler interfering, and a brawl ensuing in the fallout backstage, a triple threat at Royal Rumble looms on the horizon.

Verdict: The turning point in the PPV, as the two men went for it hard and earned their place on tonight’s card. What comes next will be good.

Chairs Match
Randy Orton vs. Rey Mysterio

Pulled straight from SmackDown’s 2006 main event, this 13-year-old feud was reignited to give these two veterans a spot on the card. A nice pre-match promo package gave me everything I needed to know: Rey’s the underdog, and Orton is a dastardly heel intent on taking Rey’s mask and beating the sh-t out of him. Nice to see things haven’t changed.

The match itself was simple enough, structured around Rey hitting his big moves and Orton capitalising on Rey’s mistakes. After a few interesting spots with a chair, Rey managed to sneak a win with a victory roll. Despite being a former World Champion, WWE makes sure to show that Rey is only capable of stealing a win. Orton is beyond needing protection, so why not let Rey beat him completely clean?

Verdict: A feud I couldn’t care less about, but I’m sure there will be more to come.

Raw Women’s Championship Match
Ronda Rowsey (C) vs. Nia Jax

Kicking up a storm ever since making her début almost a year ago, Ronda Rousey has won over hardcore and casual fans alike despite her inexperience. Usually supported by a ring general like a Charlotte Flair or Alexa Bliss, TLC could have marked one of her biggest challenges as a wrestler, working with the comparatively green Nia Jax.

Proving their ability earlier this year at Money In The Bank, the duo gave us a reminder here. While the match itself was not much of a step up from their MITB encounter, it was still entertaining. Rousey continues to impress with superb counters and hitting a sunset flip powerbomb that got a huge pop. Decisively beating Nia with an armbar, despite the relatively good showing from both women, the match felt like a placeholder for Ronda. Nia’s descent down the card was confirmed when ‘The Man’ clocked her in the face like a bad-ass.

Verdict: A solid match; Rousey continues to impress.

WWE Championship Match
Daniel Bryan vs. AJ Styles

Now for the match that I was most excited about, two workhorses going at it in Daniel Bryan and AJ Styles. Set to the backdrop of Bryan’s comeback year, his retirement and his “fight for your dreams and your dreams will fight for you” speech, a pre-match promo package gave the title match a serious weight that cannot be felt anywhere else on the card (and not a dead relative or stipulation or gimmick in sight).

Despite my scepticism over Bryan’s heel turn, this match and his match with Lesnar at Survivor Series proved how wrong I was. Frankly, I should have never have been worried; as soon as the bell rings, Bryan shows that he has the tools to be a great heel. Constantly stalling and working the crowd, Bryan played the role of crafty heel very well as he tried to psych out Styles.

Trying his best to wear down and break each other, Bryan and Styles put on a match that was not only technically amazing, but also suspenseful. Going back and forth, meeting each stiff kick and elbow with an equally stiff recipe, this was an excellent match that had the crowd in the palm of its hands. Sneaking a win with a roll-up reversal, Bryan retained the title by the skin of his teeth to keep this feud boiling over for another month or so. Although I’m not a huge fan of not having a resolution on PPVs, when the wrestling is this good, I can’t complain.

Verdict: Match of the night; I cannot wait to see these guys again at the Rumble.

Intercontinental Championship Match
Seth Rollins (C) vs. Dean Ambrose

The second ‘blood feud’ of the night. Where Natalia and Ruby had let us down earlier in the night, would the story of two brothers imploding fare any better? With a history as storied as Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins, this match could have been something special. Forced by Roman Reigns’ departure due to leukaemia, the second implosion of The Shield was rushed and has come nowhere near Seth Rollins’ break-out feud.

But it wasn’t the in-ring work that really killed this match; it was the San Jose crowd. Opting for a much slower pace than usual, while their previous bouts have been big gimmick matches, this straight-up singles match lost an already tentative crowd, who had been pretty quiet for the whole night. Maybe it was the comedown from the previous match, but the SAP Centre wanted none of the methodical contest that Ambrose and Rollins put on.

Things picked up near the end as Rollins ran through his back catalogue of cool moves. But the drama that the commentary team and the previous Raws had been building towards never quite landed the way it should have. Ambrose’s fist bump beg-off was a particularly sour note; the drama that was supposed to sustain the match never had little impact.

Verdict: Nothing like their previous encounters. Ambrose and Rollins did something different, and the work was solid, but the ending (which saw Dean capture the title) fell flat thanks to an uninterested audience.

SmackDown Women’s Championship Triple Threat TLC Match
Becky Lynch (C) vs. Charlotte Flair vs. Asuka

The biggest match of the night; with a great build and the in-ring return of the red-hot Becky Lynch, this TLC match was everything you could want.

And unlike most of the PPV, this match fully delivered on the hype. Using the typical formula of a triple threat match, the familiar narrative of throwing someone to the outside where they lie for five minutes, was hidden thanks to the incredible work-rate of all the women.

A year on from her main roster debut, despite creeping down the card, Asuka’s presence was welcomed, even if it did feel a little out of place. The Empress Of Tomorrow showed why she is deserving of the main event spot, as she and the two other competitors put on a hell of a match. But if there was a woman that rose above the rest, it was Charlotte Flair. Continuing to show her mean streak, Flair’s spear to Asuka through the barricade and her hammering her opponents with her weapon of choice, a kendo stick, were just a couple of great spots from Charlotte in the match. But Flair took as much as she gave, taking a horrifically-botched leg drop that saw Becky land right across Charlotte’s chest which was especially nasty. Showing equal amounts of substance and style, all three women may have put on a great match, but Flair was definitely the MVP.

The end came when Ronda Rousey bounced down to the ring to shove a battling Charlotte and Becky off a ladder. With Ronda walking away defiantly, a prone Asuka took advantage to win her first Women’s title on the main roster.

Verdict: A show-stealing match, and a great way to end the last PPV of 2018.

On a night with no Roman Reigns, no Brock Lesnar and no other part-timers that will undoubtedly fill the main event spots in the coming months, TLC was ripe for the taking. With the exception of the main event and the Bryan vs Styles match, no-one really claimed that golden opportunity. There were flashes of attempts, with Daniel Bryan, Drew McIntyre and Charlotte Flair all standing out, but none quite had that “wow” moment that grabs everyone’s attention.

Nonetheless, TLC proved to be a solid PPV, continuing the current string of decent PPVs over the last couple of months. Tables Ladders and Chairs offered something for everyone. A Fast-paced, high-stakes spot-fest in the TLC main event, a serious blood feud in Rollins and Ambrose, and a competitive wrasslin’ match in Styles vs. Bryan, with everything else being that schlocky sports entertainment that never quite has the emotional impact that it should. It’s a testament to WWE’s will to please casual and hardcore fans alike, regardless of whether certain matches would work for you, if you’re a wrestling fan in any way, then TLC 2018 had something for you.

There you have it guys, what did you think of Tables Ladders and Chairs this year? Where does it sit for you among the best PPVs of 2018? Let us know what you think in the Comments section below!