These things seriously feel like they’re happening every week…
Emanating from Dallas, Texas
Announcers: Tom Philips, John “Bradshaw” Layfield, David Otunga, Mauro Ranallo
SMACKDOWN TAG TEAM CHAMPIONSHIP- THE NEW WYATT FAMILY (BRAY WYATT & RANDY ORTON) vs. HEATH SLATER & RHYNO (c)
CARMELLA vs. NIKKI BELLA- NO DISQUALIFICATIONS MATCH
INTERCONTINENTAL CHAMPIONSHIP- DOLPH ZIGGLER vs. THE MIZ (c)- LADDER MATCH
BARON CORBIN vs. KALISTO- CHAIRS MATCH
SMACKDOWN WOMEN’S CHAMPIONSHIP- ALEXA BLISS vs. BECKY LYNCH (c)- TABLES MATCH
WWE WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP- AJ STYLES (c) vs. DEAN AMBROSE- TLC MATCH
MATCH SPOILERS AHEAD- Y’ALL BEEN WARNED
So yeah, that happened. I seriously spent the majority of this week not even being sure that there even was a pay-per-view this Sunday, then come the day, wham-bam thank ya ma’am, pay-per-view. Still, I guess I can’t complain about wrestling too much these days when it falls into my lap, cos its actually been pretty good lately, and TLC is an exemplar of that trend.
Seriously, I don’t know whether it was just my total lack of expectations for this show or what, but TLC is one of the best main roster shows I’ve seen this year, from an overall quality stand-point. Yes, there have been shows with better matches and angles and feuds, but no show this year outside of NXT felt as cohesive or complete as TLC did. It may not be the best show of the year, but TLC was definitely the best single-branded pay-per-view since the Brand Split started.
Let’s start with the booking, which is always a tricky point for these gimmick based shows. The big problem with most gimmick shows is that the gimmicks often feel forced or completely inappropriate, but TLC’s matches all had gimmicks that, at the very least, felt appropriate to the stakes and intensity of the feuds leading up to the matches. It really speaks to just how much better the writing seems to be on Smackdown when you see a show made up of matches that actually have proper build and emotional weight behind them. There were even some small touches that really stood out too, like Nikki Bella coming out for her match actually looking tooled up for a fight. It’s a small thing, but it’s the little touches that do wonders to sell a match. That said, Chairs matches are still dumb, and I really think the only time there should be a Tables match is if the Dudley Boyz are involved somehow, but I guess I can’t complain if the action’s good.
And speaking of (smooth transition) action, the wrestling on display at TLC was another delightfully top-notch aspect of the show. There were more than a few matches on the card that I was worried would be snoozers, but it turned out that almost every match delivered on a high level. I was particularly impressed with the Chairs match between Corbin and Kalisto, which I was almost certain would tank, turned out to be a genuinely great match that did a lot to rehab both of these guys flailing stock. Of course, the match of the night was a close call between the Ladder Match and the main event for the WWE World Championship, but I think I have to give the edge to the main event, which was a true spectacle of AJ Styles and Dean Ambrose absolutely busting their asses, including several truly insane spots that popped an already fired-up crowd. The the only match that underwhelmed slightly was the Tag Team Title match, but at the same time it was also exactly what it needed to be, so its hard to say it was a flop.
Perhaps most impressive about TLC was the fact that pretty much every match had a finish that actually worked. Rest assured, those are words that I truly thought I would not be typing anytime soon, but here we are. Pretty much everyone who really needed wins one, and there were even some nice twists thrown in to boot. Alexa Bliss’s win should prove to be an interesting shake-up fro the women’s division, and thank Christ that Bray Wyatt finally has gold to his name; long overdue. Some things didn’t quite hit: Carmella’s “big reveal” didn’t really seem all that shocking or revelatory, and the fact that Miz won after the intensely emotional retirement match of the previous month kinda cheapened the otherwise excellent Miz/Ziggler rivalry a little bit. Of course, the biggest shock was James Ellsworth betraying Deam Ambrose to help Styles retain the World title, which as Talking Smack afterward demonstrated, proved to be a beautiful little stroke of story-telling genius. I seriously don’t know whether I love or am slightly depressed by the fact that James Ellsworth is one of the best-written characters in the WWE right now, but at least I can’t say its not interesting.
WWE TLC 2016 turned out to be a true delight; a well-balanced show loaded with great matches, strong booking, and satisfying finishes. TLC is proof positive that Smackdown has been the greatest beneficiary of the Brand Split. If you’re a ‘rassling fan of any kind, especially a long-time viewer of Smackdown, then this show will not disappoint.