Previously on the Best and Worst of WWE TLC: A case of the mumps broke out in WWE, causing Bray Wyatt to get removed from the card at the last minute and replaced with AJ Styles in a match against Finn Bálor. Thanks, mumps! Thumps! Also on the show, Kurt Angle joined The Shield, Enzo Amore as Cruiserweight Champion was a thing, and Alexa Bliss got smacked on her biscuit butt.
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Here’s the Best And Worst Of WWE TLC: Tables, Ladders, & Chairs, originally aired on December 16, 2018.
Best: Everything About The Cruiserweight Championship Match Except The Fact That It Was On The Pre-Show Again
The Cruiserweight Championship — and Buddy Murphy, specifically — stole the show at Super Show-Down and again at Survivor Series but sorry everybody, there are twelve matches on this show and those Baron Corbin segments aren’t going to make room for themselves. So back, back to the pre-show with the cruiserweights.
Aside from that being kind of disheartening, it’s another show-stealing effort from Buddy Murphy and Cedric Alexander, and (extremely watchable tag team championship match aside) is the only really good thing between match 1 and match 10 at TLC. These matches keep starting off with dead crowds and building a match with them in mind to bring them back in and get them hype, and Murphy might be the best guy in the company right now at being an impactful but fair-play heel who can help make anyone he’s wrestling look like a million bucks in front of 10,000 people (or 5,000 on the pre-show) who have no idea who either guy are.
I wish the disconnect between casual fans and the really good “sub-main roster” shows WWE do wasn’t so extreme, still, but WWE’s locked onto something really special (and WCW-like) by giving the cruisers ten minutes to shine SOMEWHERE on these pay-per-views. The audience will continue to find it, just keep at it, and don’t ever put the purple belt on a guy who can’t work his ass off again.
Worst: While My Guitar Gently Weeps
Previously, the announced rule of the guitar comma ladder match between Elias and Bobby Lashley was that whoever was able to climb the ladder and retrieve the guitar could use it as a weapon against their opponent. That was the whole thing. Then, without any reason or explanation, the match gets changed to “the first person to pull down the guitar wins.” When did we find this out? When Jojo announced it at the beginning of the match, or, if you’re like me and didn’t listen very closely to the announcing, when Elias grabs the guitar and the bell rings.
Between a random rule change at the last minute to make the match less interesting and the fact that Elias won the match only to immediately get his ass kicked by the heels and hit with a guitar anyway, this was the most pointless thing on the entire card. Hey look, the Raw writers got to write a Raw segment for the pre-show!
Renee Young’s, “There’s better poses than that! There’s better poses than butt-first!” is an all-time call, though, gotta say.
Best: Long Live The Princess
Since Elle Collins covered the Mixed Match Challenge from the beginning, I decided to let them have a crack at writing about the finals.
I don’t know how it looked to TLC viewers who didn’t watch the entire tournament, but I thought this was a satisfying ending to the second Mixed Match Challenge. It’s true that this season was hamstrung by so many injuries that it seemed like they were rearranging a team every week. It’s also true that they blatantly used the playoff rounds to get rid of anybody who had a more important match at TLC, so the teams who seemed at first like the biggest jobbers in the tournament ended up in the finals.
It all worked for one reason: Carmella. Well, that’s really not fair to R-Truth, so I’ll say two reasons, but the most important thing R-Truth did was to build up Carmella and help transform her character. They’re work together is a shining example of how a veteran can help a younger wrestler get over. When Mixed Match Challenge started, Carmella was still a heel, still a blonde, and still tainted for a lot of fans by a championship run that was deliberately booked as undeserved, but came off as so undeserved that a lot of fans came away with the false impression that Carmella can’t work.
Then she and Truth teamed up for the MMC, they originated the 7-Second dance break when they took over MizTV, she started rapping with him on entrances, and somewhere along the way she became somebody you can root for again. She’s still kind of a silly character, but R-Truth being such a clown himself enables her to be the reasonable one. Every man she’s been associated with in WWE has dragged Carmella down (except for Big E, but that was a very brief partnership), but R-Truth builds her up and makes her better.
So watching them win the Mixed Match Challenge felt right. Carmella was the protagonist of the season, so Alicia Fox tapping to the always cool-looking Code of Silence was the perfect ending. R-Truth denying Carmella the vacation she thought she’d won was the perfect button on that ending. And now we have a new Carmella, and we get to see what she does next.
As for the Royal Rumble stipulation, I saw some people grumbling that they’d wasted it by giving that #30 spot to people who have no chance of winning. To them I say, what did you expect to happen? Nobody who might win the Royal Rumble was ever going to win the Mixed Match Challenge. Personally, I’d rather see Carmella and R-Truth get their nice moment here and have fun comedy spots at the end of their Rumbles than spend the next month tempted that to hope that Finn Bálor and Bayley might win their Rumbles only to see them come in at #30 and get immediately eliminated.
Hopes for next year’s Mixed Match Challenge:
- tape it all in a weekend at Full Sail so everyone doesn’t get hurt
- a Pete Dunne/Millie McKenzie team
- Bill and Peyton enter as a team, whether they’re allowed to or not
- Bo Dallas wins it all, goes back to Disney World
Best: The Smackdown Tag Teams, Obviously
Part of me is deeply concerned that the Vince McMahon plan to “shake things up” on Monday night is just going to be a draft, because they think which talent is on which show is the problem and that bringing over popular Smackdown acts to Raw will keep them popular and not just ruin them by getting Raw all over them. The reason I bring that up here is because New Day vs. The Usos vs. The Bar felt like it only really happened this way to get them all in the ring together one last time, because New Day’s probably getting sent to Mondays.
All right, now that that internal dread is out of the way, this was a really fun (but ultimately consequence-free) Tag Team Championship match that gave everyone in it a moment to shine, and that’s easily the best thing I can say about the entire middle of the pay-per-view. These teams are all heads and shoulders above what Monday nights have given us, and while it felt like more of an exhibition than a hotly-contested championship match to me, that’s still a huge Best. WWE should realize that New Day is like a cheat code for the company; they do wacky “sports-entertainment” all the time, but even at their worst, we still can love them because we know their matches are gonna be good. It should’ve also clued them in to the fact that some people on the show could probably handle their own beats and comedy and do a lot better than a room full of terrified writers trying to please one increasingly blind 73-year old Republican.
Additional notes: Cesaro is still inhuman and deserves better, even if this is all really good. End of notes.
Worst, But At Least It’s Finished: Baron Corbin, Problem Causer
If you watched the opening to last week’s Raw and read my thousand-word write-up of it in Best and Worst, you know how I feel about this. If you didn’t, here’s a desperately succinct recap: WWE, realizing it has spent the past couple of months sinking its flagship show into rating and viewership misery with bad plot construction, terrible character consistency, a metric ton of meandering bullshit, and by removing anything that could possibly be exciting decided to blame all of their problems on a single fictional character, Constable Corbin Elect. It’s actually BARON CORBIN who made Raw bad. He’s the reason the Revival is getting buried and segments revolve around people pissing themselves, somehow!
With Vince showing up on Monday, we all knew where this was going, and they gave us a “series finale” for Baron Corbin. Braun Strowman shows up in a sling, reminds Corbin that TLC matches are no disqualification, then reveals that like six random babyfaces from Raw have decided to show up and murder Corbin with steel chairs. They all take turns beating him up and doing signature moves to him, and then Strowman pins him with one foot.
From a positive point of view, it’s catharsis for people who don’t like Corbin and believe that his run as general manager has made the show worse. I can’t blame them. Devoting an hour every week to what Baron Corbin is thinking and doing was a bad decision from every conceivable angle was a bad call, and now we get to move on from that. But still, Corbin wasn’t actually the problem. So if we replace him with Kurt Angle or GM John Cena or Triple H or whatever and the writing, logic, and character consistency don’t get any better, nothing will have changed. We’ll just have a better performer performing a bad role.
Hey WWE, if you have to have these authority figure characters, have you ever thought about hiring an actor to play one, instead of casting an old wrestler? It worked wonders for the first three seasons of Lucha Underground and made the non-wrestling authority figure the key (and most beloved) character on the show. Maybe that’s a better call than giving pre-scripted lines from a 73-year old to a guy who spent the past 5-30 years getting kicked in the head for a living?
Whoever laid out this match did a great job. It’s structured perfectly; Natalya is out-numbered 3-to-1, so she has to take out Liv Morgan and Sarah Logan with tables to “eliminate” them from the match. That leaves her one-on-one with Ruby, finally, and she decides to reveal a Ruby Riott Fathead decal on a table, a direct clapback to Ruby’s mental games. She even puts on her dad’s old jacket to reinforce the importance of her connection to him via his possessions, since Ruby started the whole thing by breaking a pair of Jim Neidhart’s sunglasses. Ruby looks like she’s going to come back and win, but Nattie powers through and puts her through a table with a big move to win. The Squad is vanquished, nobody goes through the Anvil Fathead table, and Natalya overcomes the odds to be the kind of hero her, uh, heel dad would’ve wanted.
The problem here, however, is Natalya. She ruined a good story by seemingly having no idea how to tell it.
Natalya takes so long to set up anything and everything that it takes away from every important plot point in the match. Liv Morgan’s out here dying taking Nestea Plunges through dangerously pre-cut tables, and Natalya is just standing around smirking at the crowd. Seriously, watch the moment when she reveals the Ruby table. She should’ve pulled it out from under the ring, let the camera and the crowd catch it, give them a look, then slide the table into the ring quickly and move on with the match. Instead, she just stands there meandering around, looking at the crowd over and over, insisting upon this cool moment that hasn’t even really happened yet. Ruby has to watusi around in a circle for like 30 seconds at a time waiting for Nattie to do anything. How does a second generation star who’s been around the business since she was born have such bad timing?
This really shouldn’t have gotten 11 minutes. They could’ve had the same match with all the same moments and plot points in 6-8 and not padded it with so much inaction and stalling. If you’d cut five out of this and five off the 12 (ugh) minute Finn/Drew match, you could’ve fit Buddy Murphy vs. Cedric Alexander on the actual show.
Worst: Omnipresent Nothing Dolph Ziggler
Drew McIntyre versus Finn Bálor is the first two hours of this pay-per-view in a nutshell. It’s not horrible, or even especially bad, it’s just boring. It’s taking 12 minutes to do something you could’ve done in six. It’s Raw, again. The Baron Corbin beatdown ended up being a 7-on-1 attack with weapons on one guy. Finn vs. Drew ended up being 2-on-1 against Drew, giving the faces an unfair advantage because Drew existentially “deserved” it, and then when it’s over, Dolph attacks Finn backstage for not appreciating his help enough. Or … something.
- didn’t get Drew over, because he lost
- didn’t get Finn over, because he needed help to win
- didn’t get Dolph over, because his character motivations and alignment are inconsistent and haven’t made any sense for like 10 years
Plus, since Finn showed up two matches earlier to help Braun Strowman beat up Baron Corbin, they killed any “will he or won’t he” drama about The Demon showing up, which is really the only thing Finn’s character still has going for him. Now we’re launching into six weeks of Finn vs. Dolph on Raw, and Drew McIntyre goes forward having lost to a guy 1/3 his size via multiple instances of cheating because he didn’t want to team with his old heel tag team partner anymore (?).
Just … have Drew McIntyre kick people’s asses and be cool. Why is that hard?
Best/Worst: And Now, A Chairs Match
Two weird things about this match:
1. The Baron Corbin beatdown involved half a dozen guys beating him down with steel chairs. The next match, Bálor vs. McIntyre, ended with McIntyre trying to hit Dolph Ziggler with a chair and getting it dropkicked into his chest. Then we had a Chairs Match. Okay?
2. “Chairs matches” are hard to do in modern WWE, because you aren’t allowed to hit people in the head with a chair. That’s how anyone who has ever thought about using a chair as a weapon in pro wrestling would do it. Instead, all you have is the “hit them in the stomach, then hit them in the back” move, or those really bad looking wild chair shots to the upper arm. Mysterio and Orton have to “find innovative ways” to use the chair, because it’s the only way to involve them anymore. It’s a lot like modern Hell in a Cell matches, where you can’t use the cell as a weapon and make anybody bleed, so you just have a Normal Match with some kendo sticks and maybe a table with a big-ass cube of fencing around you.
Mysterio’s finishing flourish was pretty fun and creative, as it his willingness to go boogie-boarding under the bottom rope on a chair or dive off the apron into an open chair crotch-first, but there’s not much else going on. Just a lot of Orton standing around and doing that “slow down” thing he was taught in OVW in 2001. It was fine, but lethargic as hell, and Orton’s feuds continue to be better than any of his matches.
Best: See You Never, Nia
I’m not much of a fan of Ronda Rousey as a personality or a human being, but that continued talking point about her adapting to being a WWE Superstar with the preternatural quickness is legit. I think she’s a better pro wrestler than she ever was a fighter, because she’s continuing to learn and adapt to a broader range of skills. She’s not just a judo robot throwing cans around until better fighters show up and punch her in the face. Don’t get me wrong, Ronda’s a shoot bad-ass, I just think she’s better at this.
She’s certainly better than Nia Jax, and her ability to carry the “Facebreaker” to something watchable here deserves commendation. Jax is the opposite of Rousey for me; I love her as a person and a real-life personality, but don’t ever want to watch her wrestle. It looks like I might get my wish, too, as Ronda straight up murks her by countering her big Accidental Punch a couple of times and kissing it (with theatrics) before tapping her out like a chump. It’s how a Rousey/Jax fight should go, especially THIS Nia Jax, who only got heat by fucking up when she wasn’t supposed to be doing anything.
If the “peace out, Nia” message wasn’t clear enough from the finish of the match, we get this moment backstage immediately afterward:
Best: One Punch Man
By the way, if Rousey pointing at Tamina before locking in the armbar was to suggest a future Rousey vs. Tamina match, can we get that over with in the opening of tonight’s Raw? And more importantly, can we keep it under 10 seconds? I wouldn’t even trust Tamina’s ability to hold out her arm and fall down.
Best: American Dragon Bryan Danielson
Without exaggeration, I’ve been waiting for this for ten years.
Ever since “Daniel Bryan” came into existence as a rookie on NXT season 1, all I’ve wanted was for former Ring of Honor World Champion ‘American Dragon’ Bryan Danielson to arrive fully formed on WWE television. The argument back then was that what Bryan did in ROH “wouldn’t work” in WWE, because he was performing for 100 people in an armory, not 10,000 people in an arena, so he needed to change and learn how to be “entertaining.” He needed “mic skills.” In case you weren’t privy to Bryan’s work from like 2002 until he signed, he was already entertaining and could already talk. He just got signed in an era before independent stars could show up with their independent names and independent gimmicks and be welcomed like conquering heroes. He got signed when Low Ki became “Kaval” and got mentored by LayCool, and Mr. Perfect’s kid couldn’t have the last name “Hennig,” because REASONS.
Bryan’s so impossibly talented, though, that we all came to love the WWE version of Daniel Bryan. He struggled and kept his guard up and kept trying and trying and reworking and trying until something caught: the “Yes” movement, which propelled him from one half of a gay panic therapy joke tag team into a spot winning two World Championships in the main event of WrestleMania after beating the top three heels on the show. It worked, because he’s him. But still, some of us would think in the back of our minds, it would be nice to see the American Dragon show up sometime.
Bryan retired and came back as a 60% version of that character, but it was fine, because we were glad to have him around. But then he kicked AJ Styles in the balls and became the “new” Daniel Bryan, turned heel for the first time in years, and got his edge back. Then, at TLC, the goddamn American Dragon showed up.
He’s not calling himself that, but this is him. Look at those dragons on his kneepads. He’s the guy who is a smart-mouthed, arrogant heel who doesn’t beat you via cheating, he beats you and pins you clean or taps you out because he’s the best wrestler in the entire world, and no amount of you booing him for being introverted and weird and unlikable is going to stop him. He’s the guy who can take your big lariats and crazy THIS IS IT Drivers and beat you with a small package, because he’s a technical wizard and is just BETTER AT THIS THAN YOU. And most important, in a moment we’ve seriously been waiting for all this time, HE HAS TIL FIVE, REFEREE. If you’re an OG Bryan Danielson fan, that moment made your heart soar.
He doesn’t beat Styles by kicking him in the dick again. Like he said, he did that one time, to one man. It was a statement. He beats Styles, clean, by out wrestling him. By out-wrestling the “best wrestler in the world,” non Shane McMahon division, via small package. Because he is MR. SMALL PACKAGE. “Yes is Dead,” but something much more wonderful (and sustainable, wink) arrived in its place. Brother, he’s so good at this that he gave us a great AJ Styles WWE Championship match with a clean finish on a pay-per-view. There aren’t enough chef’s kisses in the world.
I love him so much, and this is a masterpiece. Let Bryan keep the championship all year, defend against everybody in the company who knows how to work, and let the WWE Championship have the renaissance it deserves while the Universal Championship is out farting its way into irrelevance.
And hey, if you can pay for ‘Cult of Personality’ and ‘Bad Reputation,’ bring this back:
WORST: And Now, The Opposite Of Bryan Vs. Styles
Holy shit, this match was a turd.
My initial reaction upon watching it last night was that it was one of the worst WWE matches of the year, but on second watch, I realize that’s not the case at all. It’s the just the wrong match. You have two of your most marketable characters in a blood feud grudge match because one of them turned on the other the night their mutual friend and teammate revealed he has leukemia in real life. There’s a championship involved. SETH ROLLINS is in the match, and he hasn’t had a bad match all year. He’s been the in-ring MVP since at least WrestleMania, and probably before. HOW IS THIS BAD? It’s so, so bad.
Instead of having these guys immediately start punching the shit out of each other and throwing bombs, they gave us a slow, methodical, *normal wrestling match.* On TLC, the show where everything has a dumb stipulation. They just wrestled a normal ass, heatless wrestling match for 23 fucking minutes and tacked on an ersatz “I’m sorry, I love you” bullshit acting thing onto the end of it. I can’t even put into words how wrong it all is. It’s still maybe one of the worst matches of the year for me, but “bad” ain’t even it.
I seriously can’t believe that the final Seth Rollins pay-per-view match of 2018 was such a failure on every level. Maybe Dean Ambrose is just never going to be the wrestler we want him to be, you know? Maybe these guys are just trying to do too much and don’t have enough to actually build a match on, because their entire Raw feud has been “tell me why you turned on me/I don’t know, I just don’t want to get diseases from these STINKY FANS.” Maybe they tanked it on purpose so the main event would seem better. Maybe they both have the mumps. Even Corey Graves spent 20 minutes pulling a weird Fatal Attraction bit on Renee about her marriage because he didn’t have anything else to talk about. Horrible from every direction.
Best: The Smackdown Women Main Event And Prove (Again) They Deserve To
Good fuckin’ grief, this main event.
The first positive thing I can say is that WWE finally seems to have figured out that they should lean into Becky Lynch and the Smackdown women’s division being the most marketable good thing they’ve got going for them right now, and giving them the main event spot on pay-per-view. Like Lynch said before the match, when was the last time the women main-evented a dual-brand pay-per-view that included the male roster? When was the last time SMACKDOWN main-evented a dual brand pay-per-view?
Lynch, Charlotte Flair, and Asuka proved for almost 23 minutes why they deserved the spot. They had the crowd (who in the previous match were rightfully chanting “this is boring”) rocking and rolling from the introductions on, and kept them engaged with some of the most brutal bumps and spots of the year. Seriously, how Charlotte Flair managed to wrestle another 10 minutes after having Becky Earthquake her from the top of a ladder is beyond me. How Charlotte could even BREATHE after that is beyond me.
And that’s just one moment from nearly half an hour of insane moments. Everybody was working on a higher gear here, and I don’t think anyone’s benefited from the Becky Lynch popularity surge quite like Charlotte Flair. Charlotte went from kind of a character dipshit to being a MONSTER, mauling people through security railings and putting the fear of God into folks by glaring at them. That Rousey beatdown at Survivor Series finally pulled her out of her dad’s persona and shadow, I think, and gave her a killer instinct she needs to be a true top icon of the division for the next decade-plus. It’s like she finally realized she’s bigger than everyone she wrestles and is made out of gymnast muscles and can kill you. The moonsault is still bad, but shit, that’s it.
I mean, Becky has probably benefited more from Becky getting popular, but you know what I mean.
AND ASUKA! ASUKA IS ASUKA AGAIN. Everything’s in its right place. She started the year winning the Royal Rumble and being positioned to win a championship, stole the show at WrestleMania, then … you know, lost, and became Naomi’s weird dancing tag team partner for losses to the IIconics. Then she just kinda drifted around doing nothing. Now she’s the bad-ass women’s champion on WWE’s best main roster brand, main-eventing pay-per-views where she gets to hit people with weapons and just generally be violent and hilarious.
The Rousey interference finish made me mad, in a good way. It’s the right call. Rousey immediately sets up her two big matches for WrestleMania season: a Royal Rumble rematch with Charlotte Flair (that she should probably win, even though I’m going to be booing her something fierce), and a WrestleMania main-event with Becky Lynch. Asuka wins the championship, which means Charlotte has a great marquee match with important stakes at WrestleMania. Those two getting a Mania rematch with the roles reversed is money. Plus, with Asuka as champion we don’t have to fret and write dense paragraphs about how Lynch needs to lose the belt before Royal Rumble so she can win that and build back up to the Rousey match.
Brilliant and dangerously concerning work from everyone here, in a rare example of the “main event” of a WWE show actually being the part of the show everyone will be talking about. And SURPRISE! The Raw parts were bad and the Smackdown parts were good. I’m sure we can find a way blame Baron Corbin for that.
Best: Top 10 Comments Of The Night
Somewhere backstage, Sasha Banks is being physically restrained to keep her from running in and trying to kill herself too.
The Real Birdman
The assassination of the SDL women’s division by the SDL women’s division
Jushin Thunder Bieber
Vince: (listening to crowd chant for Becky) You were supposed to break their spirits!
Dean and Seth: We did!
Vince: *slaps them both* You broke NOTHING!
This match could use a table with a Roman Reigns fathead on it.
At this point Graves and Renee have a more heated blood feud going than Seth and Dean.
Bryan is anti-pollution. Of course he gets a clean win.
If Bryan retains, I want him to replace the belt side plates with solar panels
AJ has Triple H’s beard and Stephanie’s hair.
Baron Von Raschke
Tamina gets involved in the match
Cole: I LOVE that type of humor!
This Kay Jewelers commercial seems like an elaborate troll on Nikki Bella.
And that’s the Best and Worst of TLC 2018. Definitely a two-match show — three if you count the kickoff show — but those matches were good enough to make it a must-see. Let’s hope Vince McMahon’s plans to “shake up Raw” are more than a draft and putting a new general manager in charge, because Raw’s so bad right now it even sinks its portions of the pay-per-views. Either fix your shit, or let Smackdown have their own shows again.
Thanks for reading, and sticking with us through another year of WWE events. Drop down into our comments section to let us know what you thought about TLC, share the column on social to help us out (since that really does help, more than you realize), and join us for all the nightmarish Raw festivities on Monday night. And then good shows on Tuesdays and Wednesdays!