Monday, 14 December 2015

WWE TLC 2015

Image Source: F4W Online
Written By: Mark Armstrong

Genre: Wrestling
Produced By: WWE
Format: Pay-Per-View
Date: December 13 2015
Location: TD Garden, Boston, Massachusetts, USA
Attendance: 14,903

Christmas can often be a time when high expectations result in an anti-climax, but it can also be a time when minimal hopes result in a pleasant surprise on the day. The latter applied to WWE's Xmas-time PPV event, TLC. On paper, the card wasn't the worst ever assembled, but the lack of star power in recent weeks (for a variety of reasons), a flat build-up and generally lacklustre writing from the WWE creative team all combined to almost make one feel like you were an idiot for actually wanting to see the show. Fortunately, the harshest critics were left with egg (or egg nog, since it's almost Crimbo?) on their faces, as the event delivered several worthwhile matches, a bonkers spot in the opening contest, and a closing scene which might have finally turned Roman Reigns into the next top babyface that WWE desperately wants him to be.

Unfortunately, WWE didn't help itself in the Kick-Off show, or rather with its presentation. After a month in which the company has been savagely buried by many, and with TLC almost annoying fans by its mere existence (fans at the NXT shows in the UK even booed TLC promo videos), you would think that WWE would want to really get fans back on its side from the get-go. Instead, for the second supercard in a row, the live feed cut out for the WWE Network at the beginning of the pre-show, and this time it was almost halfway through the hour-long preview programme before most fans (myself included) were able to see what was going on. That it happened once at Survivor Series was perhaps an accident; twice in a row suggests a major production mishap somewhere. This simply must be remedied, more than any other creative aspect of WWE TV; not only does it spoil one's enjoyment of said shows, but it reduces fan confidence that the feed will work, and with Royal Rumble up next and WrestleMania looming, the last thing WWE needs is an internal error to cause fans to opt out of watching supershows via the Network.

After that situation, WWE then gave us another source of annoyance. That the company booked Sasha Banks vs. Becky Lynch on the preview event didn't bother me; it ensured that the hometown Boston crowd got to see Sasha in action, thus hopefully preventing "We want Sasha!" chants during the PPV itself. That one of WWE's best matches of the year (at the May NXT Takeover) was only on the warm-up hour is questionable, but under the circumstances it's hardly worth rioting over. Fans don't realise that WWE is clearly building Sasha up, and saving her for a probable WrestleMania title shot, so in that respect the company is doing the right thing; slowly building up a contender to become champion on the biggest stage. Isn't that what we used to demand? This match was a pretty good one too, with Sasha winning via the Bank Statement after an admittedly weak interfering kick to Becky by Naomi. That Lynch lost by submission when a Divas Title shot might be approaching is also debatable, but regardless, the match was what it was.

Where this match approached the red zone in the "Annoy-ometer" was the pre-match promo for Team BAD. In recent weeks, WWE has tried to turn Team BAD into a female clone of The New Day, or at least an act incorporating comedy. Sadly, none of the three are particularly funny, they simply couldn't top the material that New Day provides, and Sasha is fine being an arrogant diva (no pun intended). And besides, isn't Tamina meant to be a dangerous force? (I was going to write "killer", but that would be too controversial for obvious reasons.) Where this really became infuriating, though, was the abysmal attempt at comedy before the bell with Team BAD singing a version of Twelve Days Of Christmas. I could understand WWE trying to ensure that fans booed Sasha, but this was dire. It was awful singing, and not in a funny way, but in, erm, an awful way. I couldn't even listen to the conclusion of this segment as it was so harmful to the ears. I hope that WWE realises that the trio are doomed to fail by being anything other than serious villains (they are called Team BAD, after all). Otherwise, fans will lose faith in the one main roster performer who genuinely could initiate a Divas Revolution. Also, their shrieks of "Unity!" are as annoying as hell. Please, WWE, stop this! And why was Lilian Garcia smiling when the heel group entered the ring, as if they were an act that we should cheer? And finally, why interrupt this match (and every Kick-Off match) with an extended commercial which could be shown over the 45 minutes of the preview show when there isn't a match going on?

Okay, rant over. After the underwhelming pre-show (which I didn't think was possible before the TLC preview event), we got to the PPV, and fortunately things began picking up. The New Day opened the card with another humorous promo. Some have noticed recently that, as entertaining as they are, the New Day act is ever-so-slightly starting to feel like it has peaked, and that overexposing the trio in recent times has threatened to reduce fan interest in them. This was a good segment, though, as the ND acted more heelish by ripping on the host city (cheap heat, yes, but at least it meant they were booed), and providing us with a suitably daft pose for a potential breakfast cereal box cover. Xavier Woods then went on commentary, whilst Kofi Kingston and Big E. duelled with the Lucha Dragons and the Usos.

Their Ladder match (a Triple Threat Tag Team affair) exceeded expectations. At first, it felt a bit same-old with regards to the spots and the structure of the match, but things escalated with such moments as a double Lucha Dragons moonsault onto New Day at ringside, followed by Jimmy and Jey Uso throwing ladders at their opponents and following that up with stereo dives. Xavier abandoned commentary momentarily to play the trombone during a ladder-assisted corner attack (in a rare comedy spot for a violent gimmick match), and Sin Cara hit a cool yet dangerous-looking senton over the ropes onto the Usos, who were under a ladder at the time. Kalisto was tipped off a ladder from underneath by Big E in another risky spot (but not Kalisto's most hair-raising stunt of the match; that came a bit later), and Kofi and Big E were taken out for the time being, leaving the two challenging teams to battle atop the ladders for the titles.

Then came the moment of the match, the night, the month and possibly even the year. Normally, going into these types of matches, I envision which signature moves or finishing moves could be incorporated into a high spot, but one I hadn't considered was the Sadina Del Sol by Kalisto, that being a backflip reverse neckbreaker. Here, Kalisto executed said move to Jimmy Uso ... off a ladder ... onto a ladder inserted between the standing ladder and the ropes ... and right through it! Kalisto must have gone 15 feet from where his feet were dangling whilst upside down to the canvas, and the impact on Jimmy's back and on Kalisto's legs (he went through the ladder in a sitting position) must have hurt a lot. The unpredictability of this moment, and the insane visual that it provided, earned it a huge ovation, and provided us with the most memorable ladder spot in ages, possibly since the days when Jeff Hardy was hurling himself off B&Q's favourite props. If WWE plans to push the Dragons, or at least Kalisto, this moment ensured that it will probably be a success.

Things still weren't over, as Jey Uso hit a splash to the floor on a ladder-covered Big E. Kalisto somehow recovered to climb a ladder again, but at this point Xavier distracted Kalisto by throwing his trombone at him, and Kofi then knocked the luchador off the ladder to open the door towards climbing up and retaining the titles for The New Day. A fantastic opener, this enhanced everyone involved, and rounded off a great year for The New Day. And Kalisto's big moment will be replayed on ladder and TLC highlight reels for years to come. I'm hoping for the Luchas to stay in the hunt and face New Day for the titles, perhaps at Royal Rumble, before a possible New Day-Usos title showdown around WrestleMania time.

Something had to follow that human stock car exhibition, and it came in the form of Ryback vs. Rusev. Uninspiring due to the general boredom of romance-based storylines, Ryback's lack of real momentum and fans being undecided whether they can accept the once-popular Lana as a heel again, this was the filler that we expected. It wasn't a bad match, as the two performers clearly grafted, but the fans weren't interested, and truthfully it would be hard to find many fans anywhere that would be. After Lana managed to once again make Ryback think that he had caused damage to her, Rusev capitalised and won via stoppage with the Accolade. Rusev and Lana work best together, but WWE needs to find a more interesting way of promoting their characters, because their storylines have been dull ever since Rusev's feud with John Cena ended. As for Ryback, it's hard to figure what WWE can do with a man once cast as the next Goldberg. A heel turn might be The Big Guy's only chance of being relevant in 2016.

Speaking of dull feuds (there's been quite a few lately in WWE), Alberto Del Rio's U.S. Title defence against Jack Swagger under Chairs rules had no real reason to exist, come showtime. With Zeb Colter joining forces with ADR, it made sense that Swagger wouldn't be impressed and would look to fight Del Rio. The first problem was that Swagger had been invisible for months, and now fans were suddenly expected to accept him as a title contender. Secondly, the ADR-Zeb alliance was simply boring and illogical, so while WWE did the right thing by separating them on the pre-TLC episode of Raw, it meant that there was virtually no reason for the two combatants to dislike each other. And whilst I didn't mind the Chairs stipulation, I don't think that there was enough animosity for such a potentially brutal stipulation to be added here.

Therefore, whilst this was a competent match, again fans weren't really into it. This felt like a match that you wanted them to get out of the way so that something which might be intriguing could then happen in the future. Both suffered some brutal blows (Swagger's back was badly marked up from the chairshots), and there were some innovative spots like a chair-assisted Patriot Lock, and Del Rio's match-winning Corner Stomp which drove Jack into a pile of chairs. This was an example of a match which needed a compelling story behind it; without that, the bout was never going to be a memorable one. I enjoyed it more than I expected, but it smacked of laziness by the WWE creative team for several reasons.

Of greater interest was the 8-man elimination tag Tables affair between The Wyatt Family and Team ECW, consisting of The Dudley Boyz and the recently-returned Tommy Dreamer and Rhyno (who had been on NXT for months, to be fair). Unlike other matches on the card, this promised nothing but violent weapon-based combat, and we definitely got that here, as tables and other weapons like garbage cans and canes were implemented. At one point, Tommy Dreamer even trapped Braun Strowman with a cheese grater to the balls (I was going to think of a clever pun, but in the absence of one, I thought I'd just call it as I saw it), which was something unexpected in the PG version of WWE.

And, yes, tables were broken. Too many, in fact, as more than one table broke unexpectedly with minimal impact. In terms of planned spots, Erick Rowan fell after a 3D, and Rhyno went out to a fairly weak kick by Luke Harper. Better was Harper's suicide dive through the ropes that put Dreamer through the wood. After a Doomsday Device to Harper by the Dudleyz (not through a table, incidentally), D-Von went out to Bray's Rock Bottom-like slam, leaving Bubba Ray alone with Bray, Braun and Harper. He put forth an admirable effort and, towards the end, lit up fans (quite literally) as he attempted to set a table on fire. But before he could, Strowman chokeslammed Bubba through the wood to claim the win for the Wyatts. We had seen a flaming table in PG WWE before at Extreme Rules 2014, so WWE perhaps could have found a way to make such a spot happen here to give us another genuine memorable moment. Or perhaps it would have seemed strange on a PPV sponsored by Toys R Us. Whatever the case, the Wyatts triumphed here, and realistically no other outcome was feasible; the Wyatts would have been permanently damaged had they lost on this occasion. The match was pretty good for what it was.

Match five pitted Kevin Owens against Dean Ambrose for the Intercontinental Title. Partly due to Owens' illness a few weeks back, this hadn't received a massive amount of hype, but fans were just excited to see these two go head-to-head again, following their Survivor Series collision. A pre-match promo by Owens attempted to turn fans against him (Kevin is so entertaining that he's a heel who most fans cheer; that's a recurring problem in WWE, I know), but against the popular Ambrose, fans were unlikely to provide the "wrong" reactions here. They started at a fast and furious pace, and the match actually felt a bit rushed, to be honest. I enjoyed this match, but I was expecting slightly more, as I was hoping they would build on their previous PPV encounter. Perhaps with more time on another night, they'll finally provide that truly great match that I was hoping for here.

Still, the match was far from a disappointment. An attempted Owens senton in the ring (which followed a successful senton at ringside) was followed by a KO German suplex. Ambrose avoided a Cannonball and hit Dirty Deeds, only for KO to save his IC Title by pitting two fingers on the ropes (not in a V-sign kind of way). It was a great heel moment, as it made Kevin look clever yet extremely fortunate, and he looked to capitalise with a Pop-Up Powerbomb. I expected this to be the finish, but instead Ambrose turned it into a hurricanrana and held Kevin's legs tight to get the three-count and win the Intercontinental Championship. Fans popped big-time, partly because they like Ambrose and partly because the result was unexpected. I was a bit sad to see Owens lose the title, but I expect rematches and a possible second title reign for Owens. At least it finally gives Ambrose a meaningful victory, and to be fair he could become a great Intercontinental Champion.

The penultimate battle was the Divas Title showdown between Charlotte and Paige, which has had a weird build-up. After the deeply personal nature of the Charlotte-Paige feud heading into Survivor Series, WWE suddenly changed course heading into TLC and began teasing a Charlotte heel turn. But with Paige still acting like a total villain, and since it's only a few weeks since Paige brought up Charlotte's dead brother as part of an insult, who were fans meant to cheer here?

I thought this match would see a gradual Charlotte heel turn, but instead the Divas Champion acted like a total heel from the bell. Ric Flair (Charlotte's father, if you didn't know) was at ringside, and the two Flairs heeled it up from Charlotte retreating to ringside to Charlotte even busting out a Flair Flop (which the WWE cameras annoyingly missed). Paige has been too nasty in recent months to cheer for here, but she was clearly working as a babyface with her mocking Flair struts. In the end, the challenger hit the Ram-Paige, but Slic Ric put Charlotte's foot under the ropes to cause the pinfall to be broken. Charlotte responded by driving Paige face-first into an exposed middle turnbuckle (a bit too weakly, unfortunately) to claim the win. Post-match, the Flairs tried to convince Becky Lynch that they are still to be trusted, and somehow Becky agreed as they apparently went to party (keep Becky away from 66-year-old Ric, if you know what I mean).

I was expecting Charlotte to slowly turn so that she would go all the way on Becky, but it looks like that has already happened. Who knows what Paige's status is now; presumably, she is a face again. I don't mind the attitude adjustments, but couldn't WWE have completed this storyline and then turned Charlotte against Becky in a following plotline? It was well-executed, and this was a better match that what we got at Survivor Series, but the presentation of the divas as a whole has been one  mishap after another.

Going into 2016, of the nine women at the centre of the Divas Revolution, all except Becky Lynch are now heels or possibly heels (the presentation of Team Bella is such a mess that it's impossible to work out what they're meant to be). Natalya is off TV again, and no other female performers are featured prominently on Raw or SmackDown at present. Good luck to WWE in trying to resolve this, because the eagerly-anticipated revamp of the Divas division is threatening to be a major flop. Fans want to enjoy the improved action involving the women, but unless it's presented logically and everyone's status is made clear, it will only result in more confusion and reduced interest. The only seemingly sure things at present are that Charlotte will next defend her Divas crown against Becky Lynch in some fashion, and that Sasha Banks is probably being saved for a title shot at WrestleMania 32. But even that could change.

The main event of TLC was, appropriately, a TLC (Tables, Ladders and Chairs, if you didn't know) clash between WWE World Heavyweight Champion Sheamus and Roman Reigns. Without so many top stars at the moment, this was the best that WWE could give us, but that wouldn't be a bad thing if the fans had been given a compelling storyline. Unfortunately, it was only mildly interesting at best, the League Of Nations faction have already suffered several losses as a group, and the final segment on Raw was drawn-out and featured some pathetic scripted dialogue for Reigns (who taunted Sheamus about having "tater tots", as if it were a heinous insult). Therefore, whilst the two big men can clearly provide a good match, and there was intrigue on the potential outcome (does Reigns finally become champ here, or does Sheamus retain while somehow protecting Roman), many hardcore fans saw this match as a symbol of a WWE in dire need of a creative shake-up.

Therefore, while the two main eventers worked hard and suffered some brutal forms of abuse at times, the live crowd wasn't in the least bit interested. They chanted for John Cena (a hometown hero, to be fair, but the "We Want Cena!" chant was hilariously ironic, even if it was mixed with "Cena Sucks!"), Seth Rollins, Daniel Bryan, NXT ... basically, everybody except the two men who were providing as good a match as they could have, under the circumstances. Sheamus, in particular, suffered some nasty-looking cuts (emphasised on his milky-white skin), and took a horrendous-looking throw in between two stacked tables which were surrounded by chairs. Reigns took a backdrop, a suplex slam and an Irish Curse through three separate tables. Both exchanged big chairshots, and generally put on a pretty compelling fight. But the crowd simply weren't interested.

It was sad to see because it wasn't the fault of the two combatants that John Cena has taken much-deserved time off; that Daniel Bryan, Seth Rollins, Randy Orton, Sting and Cesaro are injured; that Brock Lesnar and The Undertaker are strictly part-timers; that Kane and Big Show are who-knows-where right now; that NXT is WWE's hottest weekly TV show at present; and that WWE's writing of shows, promos, rivalries and everything else has been dismal over the last couple of months in regards to building up stars, creating compelling stories and making fans react accordingly to babyfaces and heels. In the midst of such a massive push, would Reigns really tell WWE writers that their promo material is awful? After waiting years for another title run, do you think Sheamus should turn the McMahons that he shouldn't be holding the title because of how badly WWE prepared him for it? Of course not.

I can definitely understand why fans are disillusioned with WWE right now. I am, too. Nevertheless, it shouldn't be taken out on Reigns and Sheamus, especially when they were busting a gut to at least give fans a worthy main event on the night. They should have been given a chance by the fans, rather than no chance. They were clearly trying to provide some cool spots. And the big bumps continued as Reigns hit a chair-assisted Superman Punch, and Reigns hit Sheamus with a Samoan Drop off the apron through a ladder straddled between the ring and the announcer's tables. Reigns then hit Sheamus with another SP, before Sheamus dragged Roman off the rungs. One more SP by Roman knocked Sheamus off a ladder through a table, opening the door for a Roman win. It should be noted that as it looked like Reigns might have won the match, fan noise did increase.

Interference from Rusev and Alberto Del Rio (where was King Barrett?) halted Roman's progress. Reigns drilled both with Superman Punches, but a Brogue Kick by Sheamus knocked Reigns out of the ring and, whilst Roman tried to recover, it was too late, as Sheamus retrieved the crown and retained the WWE Title. I enjoyed this match, or at least I tried to enjoy it. On mute, this would have been a very good main event. The crowd reactions couldn't help but damage the presentation of this bout. Fortunately, the night was not over. Those who were ignoring Roman were about to receive a surprise.

As the LON celebrated, one sensed that something else would happen (I was half-expecting a John Cena comeback), and something else did happen as Reigns Speared Rusev and Del Rio, who were holding Sheamus on their shoulders at the time in a cool visual. Reigns then began pounding all three with chairshots, in an attempt to show that Reigns had snapped due to all of the obstacles which had been continually thrown in front of him to stop him winning the WWE Title (the biggest one wasn't mentioned; that being, the response by fans towards Reigns throughout 2015). In the end, Triple H and Stephanie McMahon pleaded with Reigns to stop. But that only made Roman madder, as he surprisingly hit HHH with a Superman Punch!

Reigns then began pounding HHH with a chair (HHH hilariously jumped too high on the first chairshot to the back), and dragged him to ringside where he powerbombed him onto an announcer's table which didn't break. In response, and to an increasingly loud crowd response, Reigns ran across one table to elbow drop HHH through the other table. And as HHH was being assisted by referees and a virtually-weeping Stephanie, Roman ran back to ringside and Speared HHH. As he left, fans weren't booing or chanting for someone else; they were popping huge for Reigns. He was even greeted with a loud chant of "Thank you Roman!" Reigns acknowledged the crowd as he left, with an almost-villainous smirk, mouthing that he knew he would get fired for this.

Some wondered if this marked a Reigns heel turn, but in reality it was an extremely well-executed attack to finally get fans on Roman's side. Fans cheered Reigns when he was in The Shield and shortly after they broke up because he seemed like a believable tough guy who clearly had ability and big moves aplenty. Fans turned on him when he started becoming a John Cena clone, and he began reeling off pathetic scripted material by the creative team, and when WWE clearly made him out to be the Chosen One. By repeatedly making Reigns have to fight for the top spot, fans are less inclined to feel that Roman is shoved down their throats, but in this one post-match attack, Reigns reverted to the smash-mouth powerhouse from The Shield, who let his actions do the talking, who wasn't afraid of anyone, who is exciting to watch, who is his own man instead of a clone of somebody else, and who is a believable tough guy rather than a cartoonish superhero character.

In short, WWE might have finally achieved its primary goal of getting the fans to back Roman Reigns as the top babyface. This is the Reigns who fans want to see, not the Cena clone. If WWE manages Reigns correctly over the next few weeks, then it is feasible that he could win the Royal Rumble and fans would approve. He might then become WWE Champion for keeps at WrestleMania, and again fans might approve. This was a first-class example of how the booking of one's character dictates their response, and the best example in years of how WWE managed to completely train the audience into providing a particular reaction. At 3.50am UK time (or 10.50pm US time), Reigns was largely being ignored by Boston fans. Less than ten minutes later, he was getting the loudest cheers of the night by a mile. Well done, WWE, and well done to Roman Reigns, too, who is ending an eventful yet ultimately difficult year on a high with this showing.

It's clear from this attack that Reigns vs. HHH is planned, probably for WrestleMania. But after this attack, will that match be for the WWE Title, or will Reigns be diverted from the gold? One of two things will happen: Reigns will somehow avoid being fired (or overturn a potential firing), win the Rumble and become champion at Mania, either with him facing HHH beforehand, at Mania for the title or even at Mania with a view to earning a main event spot, like Daniel Bryan did at WM XXX. Or Reigns will not enter the title picture again until after a WM grudge match with HHH, leaving the door open for someone else to get a title shot.

The thing is, only Brock Lesnar stands out as a feasible title contender at Mania if it isn't Reigns, and could you really see Sheamus remaining WWE Champ until WrestleMania? With Dean Ambrose becoming IC Champ, I honestly cannot think of anyone else to challenge Sheamus at Royal Rumble or Fast Lane, unless WWE suddenly promotes Finn Balor from NXT. John Cena is a possibility, but he's likely to challenge Del Rio for the United States Title first; plus, if the rumours are true, Cena is facing Undertaker at WrestleMania, and we have seen Sheamus-Cena (and, for that matter, Lesnar-Cena) too many times already. The only other option would be if Daniel Bryan was somehow medically cleared, and he either became Champ at RR or won the Rumble in a surprise return, leading him to face Lesnar in a WWE Title match at WrestleMania. But the way things stand right now, Bryan might not even wrestle again in WWE. Who knows what will happen?

The good news is that WWE has six weeks to prepare for Royal Rumble, and the official beginning of the Road To WrestleMania, so there's plenty of time to make things happen. More good news came from TLC being a show that exceeded expectations with a few good matches and a couple of memorable moments. And the best news of all for WWE is that Roman Reigns might have finally achieved the goal of being accepted by WWE fans as the next top babyface in the company. Considering the woeful hype and the almost-deterrent messages beforehand by fans about whether to watch the show, TLC 2015 has to be considered a success. After a rocky time on-screen and off, this will hopefully be the catalyst for a turnaround in WWE. I'll give the show a higher rating than usual, simply for succeeding where virtually everyone had predicted failure.

Overall Rating: 7.5/10 - Good

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