By Jason Powell
WWE TLC Hits
AJ Styles vs. Dean Ambrose in a TLC match for the WWE Championship: A terrific TLC match. Both men were great, but Styles in particular delivered an MVP performance. This match put the show over the top in a big way. The finish with James Ellsworth turning on Dean Ambrose wasn’t for everyone, but it worked for me. Ellsworth has been run into the ground as a babyface. The options were to do an injury angle and send him home until the fans missed him again or turn him heel. The logic he used that he has AJ’s number after beating him three times is interesting in that I suspect the duo will end up on the same page coming out of their title match on Smackdown Live. Ellsworth should be a fun sidekick for Styles, and hopefully WWE shows discipline by waiting until at least the Royal Rumble to have Ambrose gets his hands on him.
The Miz vs. Dolph Ziggler in a ladder match for the Intercontinental Championship: A good ladder match. It helped that there was a sense of mystery regarding the outcome. Even if you predicted Miz would retain, they didn’t make it obvious enough that it felt like a lock. The Miz character developed an edge when he was drafted to Smackdown, and he’s carried that over to the ring by showing more of a mean streak than he did during his A-Lister days. The match finish won’t go down as a memorable ladder match finish, but it was true to the Miz character and forwarded his story with Daniel Bryan. WWE is dedicating so much time to Miz and Bryan that it left me wondering if they are going to have a match where Bryan takes no bumps and simply destroys Miz.
Baron Corbin vs. Kalisto in a chairs match: When I think of chairs matches, I think of two men lumbering around the ring, jabbing each other in the gut with chairs, and hitting each other with overly safe chair shots to the back. The bar was low, and Corbin and Kalisto cleared it with ease by working a good, intense match. Kalisto showed good fire in his pursuit of revenge, and the right guy went over as they continue to showcase Corbin. The crowd didn’t seem invested in either character and mostly sat back and reacted to big spots and stiffer shots. It will be interesting to see who Corbin works with next. There aren’t many options due to the lack of roster depth, and he needs to continue to win matches rather than be stuck in a back and forth feud like he had early in his main roster run with Dolph Ziggler.
Nikki Bella vs. Carmella in a No DQ match: A minor Hit. The crowd was flat, but the women held their interest by working aggressively. The fire extinguisher finish of the match nearly dragged this into Miss territory. I honestly thought the initial spray was a routine transitional moment. It didn’t even enter my mind that this was the actual finish because it was so hokey. The women worked a good, physical match to the best of their abilities and were stuck with a bad WWE Hardcore style finish. By the way, the idea of corny lyric reciting Natalya as the mystery attacker does nothing for me. If this is a swerve, then I wonder if they drag this out for a month or two and then reveal that Becky Lynch attacked Nikki because she was upset that Nikki was named the Survivor Series team captain even though she was the champion at the time.
Overall show: The Smackdown Live brand continues to deliver. The only issue was the lack of roster depth, as the women’s and chairs matches felt like they were stretched out to fill time. It’s a shame that they can’t get a couple of underutilized talents from Raw to help provide some mid-card depth. Neville would be nice addition to the Tuesday night brand, and it would be nice to see them pluck a heel from NXT to help round things out. Even with the shortage of talent, the Smackdown brand remains the more consistently entertaining brand of the big two in WWE.
WWE TLC Misses
Becky Lynch vs. Alexa Bliss in a tables match for the Smackdown Women’s Championship: A minor Miss for a solid match that felt like it was given five more minutes than it needed. I love Mauro Ranallo’s work and lord knows what he’s being fed through his headsets, but I hope he will stop mentioning Bliss’s diminutive stature now that she’s captured the women’s championship. It’s just not something I think about until I’m reminded of it every five minutes or so. The match quality was passable, but the crowd’s flat reaction to it moved it into the Miss category. I am curious to see if Lynch bounces back and regains her title quickly or if they opt to turn her heel via the scenario I mentioned above. If the heel turn is the plan, they really need to stop and think about how aggressively they push Nikki Bella as the top babyface on the brand. The fans seem fine with her now, but there will be a large number of fans who turn on her if she’s positioned as the dominant babyface on the brand, especially at the expense of Lynch.
Heath Slater and Rhyno vs. Randy Orton and Bray Wyatt for the Smackdown Tag Team Championship: At roughly six minutes, this is one match that did not overstay it’s welcome. It just never got very interesting, though it was nice to see Wyatt finally win a title in WWE. It seems like the Smackdown creative team lost interest in Slater and Rhyno about a month ago. They went from being prominently featured in matches and comedic segments to abruptly becoming an afterthought. The oddball pairing of Orton and Wyatt seems to be the flavor of the month with the duo winning the Survivor Series match and now the tag titles. Orton and Luke Harper’s post-match staredown shows that they may not be a happy Wyatt Family.