Following a disappointing Survivor Series and three straight weeks of retread garbage on Raw, I confess to being relatively certain that I would hate this year’s TLC pay-per-view. Perhaps my low expectations played a bit of a role in my enjoyment, but WWE’s annual December special was far more dynamic and even surprising than I believed possible. That’s saying quite a bit for a show that featured Roman Reigns taking on Sheamus as the main event of the card.
It’s not really shocking that Sheamus was able to retain his WWE World Heavyweight Championship for another month, and the fact that interference from the Irishman’s newly-formed League of Nations faction sealed the deal is a bit of a yawn in its own right. The real meat and potatoes (potatoes! Ireland!) came after the match, as Reigns flipped shit after being denied the company’s biggest title once again thanks to interference and general Authority meddling. Reigns went to town on Sheamus, Rusev, and United States titleholder Alberto Del Rio, spearing all three and drubbing anyone within his eye line with steel chairs galore. When COO Triple H made his way down to the ring to stop Reigns’ assault, he too fell victim to what felt like endless retribution.
What works here is just how far over the top Reigns goes in his bloodthirsty attempt at vengeance. He takes things way too far, ditching his nice guy aesthetic for a bitter rage that could either play for a heel turn or (more likely) an elongated feud with Triple H and the Authority that the writers are hoping will put him over once and for all with the fans before he finally has a serious title run. Either way, the scene played out as an aggressive shitstorm, and in terms of plotting it means the issue has to be addressed on Raw immediately. When Brock Lesnar had a similar tantrum, he received a kayfabe suspension. My guess is that Reigns is faced with the same fate unless he can beat like five dudes at once, which he (of course) will in order to further his Superman image.
Devoid of the insane post-match antics of the finale, the actual ringwork spread across the rest of the card was more gratifying. The Intercontinental title match between two of my favorites–Dean Ambrose and Kevin Owens–was incredibly fun. Owens continued to inject heel humor into his matches, as he talked trash and discussed his own moves throughout. Ambrose was wild and technically sound as well, and he surprisingly came away with a victory. It was a wise decision, as it elevates Ambrose to get him out of his perpetual stall and keeps Owens open for just about anything as he ascends his way up the ladder. Not the actual ladder, mind you; this is one of the few matches without any hardcore stipulations.
The three-team tag title match was very good as well, as The New Day retained when a ringside Xavier Woods went ahead and threw his trombone at Kalisto as he tried to ascend the ladder and claim glory for his Lucha Dragons tag team. It was a funny, weirdo moment punctuating a match that saw virtually every man involved take and deal out impressive moves while making the most of the in-ring props available. The New Day remain the most entertaining thing in the tag division (and probably overall), so there wouldn’t really be a reason to make a change here. That said, a wildly butt-hurt New Day could be quite funny for a while when the time comes.
Paige and Charlotte’s Divas Championship match also featured plenty of big moments. Paige seemed all set to grab the gold again after hitting her finisher (you know, the Rampaige), but Charlotte’s cloying father Ric Flair tampered with the pin to ensure his daughter a win later on. Charlotte seems to have fully turned heel now, which is pretty weird with Paige still occupying the same turf. Maybe Becky Lynch, who is awesome and seems jilted by both of her former faction mates, will enter the fray against a pair of baddies. Regardless, the Divas division seems a bit unpredictable, and Paige’s mocking of Ric Flair is basically my favorite thing ever. I can’t stand Ric Flair’s wrinkled fucking face, and it’s nice to see a heel Paige complain about the same things I truly get annoyed with while also over-killing all those pandering struts and yelps. Ric Flair makes the Undertaker look like he’s in his prime, and this is a guy who still entered the ring shirtless about five years ago with his infinitely melt-y physique.
I had a lot of trouble mustering the energy to give a shit about the ECW Originals vs. Wyatt Family elimination match even though I liked the format. It’s good to finally get the Wyatts a convincing win to make the group seem imposing, but Tommy Dreamer and Bubba Ray Dudley could easily play unassuming hardware store clerks in “Fargo” and I wouldn’t bat an eye.
I also didn’t care about Alberto del Rio’s obvious win against a randomly important Jack Swagger, whose Big Time Patriot act is about as lazy a cheap pop as exists in wrestling, and that’s saying a lot. Jack Swagger was all but off real programming two seconds ago, so injecting him into the fray for one of the company’s major titles seems awfully strange. The fact that his hair looks like a stringy vanilla Zinger doesn’t help matters either.
Then we got Rusev against Ryback in a match that wasn’t properly built up and had absolutely no consequence. While Lana sure did look hotter than any human being I’ve ever seen in her weird European milk maid outfit, her feigned injury leading to a win for her fiancee Rusev didn’t do anything for me. Still, I’d really like to have a sit-down with Rusev and discuss at length exactly how he was able to get Lana to agree to marry him. I’m sure he’s a wonderful man, but he looks like this and she looks like this.
All in all, TLC was a breezy pay-per-view, one with multiple exciting matches that set up a series of potential plot decisions going forward rather than simply continuing along a path that would have virtually insured additional nadirs in modern wrestling programming. Perhaps foolishly, I once again feel optimistic and the sour taste of a lackluster Survivor Series has been swabbed from my mouth.