It’s almost Christmas, and that means WWE is paying Tribute to the Troops, with a two-hour special that was shot on December 4th at Fort Hood in Texas. It’s pretty much a house show with an audience of service members and a couple of celebrity appearances, but it doesn’t pretend to be anything else. Lots of WWE Superstars were in attendance, but there were only four matches on the card. So let’s go ahead and look at the Best and Worst of Tribute To The Troops 2018
Worst, But It’s Fine: Plenty Of Schmaltz, Lots Of Heart
Tribute to the Troops is what it is. Obviously the troops themselves deserve a fun show like this, but along the way it involves a lot of military imagery, “U! S! A!” chants, and helicopter flybys, and all of that is just kind of not my wheelhouse. Some people are better at delivering it than others, of course. The New Day came out dressed as Santa, an elf, and a reindeer, accompanied to the ring by Carmella (also dressed as an elf, I think) and R-Truth (dressed as some kind of Christmas Pimp). The New Day are so good that they can pay homage to the troops without it sounding stale or obvious. When Ronda Rousey made her attempt later in the show, on the other hand, she sounded like a bored middle schooler giving a speech that’s required for school. Seth and AJ at the end of the show were solidly in the middle. And of course throughout there were little spots of various WWE Superstars talking about how great it is to spend time with soldiers, which also varied widely in sincerity. It’s fine. It’s what this show is, it’s all fine (except Ronda, who’s kind of bad).
Worst: Two Arms At Once
Tag team triple threat matches are so weird! You only have two people legally in the ring at a time, unlike singles triple threat matches, so there’s always one whole tag team on the apron, either trying desperately to grab someone from another team so they can tag themselves in, or just hanging out watching the other folks beating each other up. Frankly, this match would have been better if it was just Natalya and Ronda versus the Riott Squad, without the involvement of Nia Jax and Tamina. Honestly, I probably would have also liked it more if it was just Nia Jax and Tamina versus the Riott Squad, without Nattie and Ronda.
What I’m saying is that Liv Morgan and Sarah Logan made this match worth watching. They’re both good in the ring and getting better all the time, and they’re so full of energy and always seem to be having lots of fun. I could live without commentary always trying to tell us that Sarah’s a viking, when we all know she made way more sense as a hillbilly, but whatever. Liv and Sarah are great, so naturally the match ended with Ronda humiliating them, putting them both in a simultaneous armbar, to which they both tap. One day the Riott Squad’s day will come, and chaos will reign (but not at Tribute to the Troops).
Best: I’ma Need Some Whiskey Glasses
I’m honestly still kind of amazed that this guy’s real. He looks like Johnny Pemberton made up to play a country singer. But as far as modern country music goes, his songs really weren’t bad. I liked that the first one was about getting drunk to forget somebody, and the second one was about having fun when you’re poor and live in the boondocks. Not knowing his work, and in the context of this special, I was expecting one of those C.S. Lewis Jr. “don’t mess with America” anthems, but it was clear that the subject matter Wallen worked with instead was far more relatable for much of this audience.
Best: At Last, Wrestling
Look, on Monday Night Raw I’d be extremely bored by Finn Bálor teaming up with Elias to take on the dastardly duo of Bobby Lashley and Drew McIntyre, but after forty minutes of patriotic speeches, double armbars, and country music, I was kind of desperate to watch some people get in the ring and just have a functional wrestling match. It was a pretty straightforward tag match, albeit with no actual tag teams involved because this is the Raw roster. The heel/face dynamics were refreshingly clear, with Finn and Elias coming off like likable friends you want to hang out with, while Bobby, Drew, and Lio Rush seemed like total jerks.
Having said that, I really enjoyed the ending where Rush was holding onto Lashley to keep Elias from taking him down, and Finn responded by knocking Lio off the ring and then kicking Bobby in the head to help Elias pin him. I’ll always take babyfaces who cheat a little in response to heel cheating over babyfaces who seem too stupid to know how things work.
Best: The Man Comes Around
TLC happened after this show was taped, but they did a good job of keeping things vague enough that it was never glaring. For example, in this Miz TV segment Miz asked Becky and Charlotte about the disintegration of their friendship, not about any specific match or confrontation. He also told Becky he was better than her in The Marine 6: Close Quarters, which set her up to call him out for acting like pretending to be a marine means anything when they’re surrounded by actual soldiers. It was sort of an ideal Babyface The Man moment, particularly when she capped it off with “I’m just here being exactly what I am, and I am The Man!” This is after she’d already threatened the Miz with violence and disparaged his manhood, so it was a good day for The Man overall.
I’m always happy when Mandy and Sonya interrupt people higher on the card than them, because you can just feel them itching to climb that ladder. I also liked how they paired themselves off with their natural opponents: muscular glamour girl Mandy was coming for Charlotte, and tough-as-nails Sonya wanted to punch The Man really hard in the face.
The story of the tag match worked perfectly. Becky probably wasn’t cleared to take bumps when this was filmed, but it simultaneously made kayfabe sense for Charlotte to refuse to tag her in. Charlotte denied it, but the Miz was right when he said that Charlotte stands in Becky’s shadow now, and Charlotte couldn’t help trying to prove that she can still be dominant on her own. Plus she knew that if Becky could take credit for winning this match she’d never let it go. And of course Becky did win the match, tapping out an already beaten-down Sonya as soon as she made it into the ring. Everything here worked, and even more impressively, it worked despite being unstuck in time. Becky was Champion when this was shot, but they managed to make it make just as much sense now that she’s not, without giving away to the live audience that she wouldn’t be for much longer.
Best/Worst: Jokes About The Weather And Airplanes
I still love Jon Stewart, but man it’s weird listening to him do comedy without talking about politics. He literally started out discussing the weather, and then moved into his airplane material. Don’t get me wrong, he’s still funny and likable, it’s just jarring for me. But Stewart’s a USO regular, so this kind of thing is normal for him and I’m the one who’s out of step. I was also kind of hoping John Cena would appear and hit Stewart with a chair, but that didn’t happen either.
Best: Ultimate Dual-Brand Tag Team House Show Main Event
The most “this was filmed before TLC” thing on the card was this match, which seemed a lot more like it was building to the Intercontinental and WWE Championship matches than like it was following them. It still totally worked, though. Seth Rollins and AJ Styles made a solid hero team, while Daniel Bryan and Dean Ambrose are both nihilistic enough to work well together, although I bet they disagree about vaccinations. In the early going, they somehow maintained an in-match brand split, sticking to AJ versus Bryan and Seth versus Dean, but eventually chaos took over and everybody started mixing it up. Two years into the brand split, in the aftermath of so many injuries and one temporary retirement, Seth Rollins versus Daniel Bryan is a really exciting prospect, and AJ Styles versus Dean Ambrose feels pretty fresh too.
None of the matches on this card had any consequences, so the goal should be having fun, and there was a lot of fun in this match. AJ Styles ultimately got the pin after hitting Daniel Bryan with a Phenomenal Forearm, which felt a lot like getting his win back, but not in a way that weakened Bryan, so that’s cool.
Just In Case You Scrolled Down Looking For Roman Reigns
Roman Reigns was not on the televised show, despite being there live when it was shot. Honestly, this seems like the right choice to me. He’s going to be out for a while yet, and putting him on camera this soon would just get people’s hopes up. I have great faith that he’ll find his way back to WWE TV and be better received there than ever before, but not in 2018, and not on Tribute to the Troops.
Anyway, this was a fine show, and worth watching mostly for the Smackdown women’s segment (like so many other shows these days). Whether you’re into the whole military thing or not, it’s a chance to watch four house show matches and the New Day dancing around in Christmas costumes. You could do worse with two hours of your Holiday Break.