By Jason Powell, ProWrestling.net Editor (@prowrestlingnet)
WWE TLC Hits
Roman Reigns vs. Kevin Owens in a TLC match for the WWE Universal Championship: A strong TLC match that made Owens look great in defeat. I assumed they were going to save the rematch for the Royal Rumble event, but they are going right back to it in a cage match that will air on Friday’s Smackdown. The repeated interference of Jey Uso did become comical. It seemed like they were writing Uso out of the match when Owens wrapped his leg in a chair and stomped on it, but he just kept hobbling back for more. Still, this match did more for Owens than WWE booking has in several years. I hope they don’t ruin it by having Reigns simply destroy Owens on Friday’s Smackdown.
Drew McIntyre vs. AJ Styles vs. The Miz in a TLC match for the WWE Championship: The rightful main event of TLC aired in the opening slot. It would have been the perfect WWE main event in that the babyface beat two heels and overcame outside interference to retain his championship. But I guess when you’re going to burn a man alive on a show, it has to go on last because it’s kinda tough to move on from that. Anyway, McIntyre and Styles had a really good match, and the addition of Miz down the stretch was solid. More importantly, it put an end to what may be the worst year for the Money in the Bank contract gimmick to date. Miz and Morrison really need to go away for a while and hope that people will forget just how poorly they have been booked.
Sasha Banks vs. Carmella for the Smackdown Women’s Championship: A quality title match. Banks is one of the most reliable in-ring performers on the roster, and Carmella came through with a match that should silence the critics who haven’t moved on from the rough matches she had when she was given the women’s title early in her main roster run. Banks winning decisively left me wondering what’s next for both women. They wrapped up the Banks and Bayley feud quickly after that ridiculously long build to their split. I thought they might go back Banks vs. Bayley at WrestleMania, but perhaps they will go back to that feud at the Rumble. If not, I have no idea what’s next for Banks.
Kofi Kingston and Xavier Woods vs. Shelton Benjamin and Cedric Alexander for the Raw Tag Titles: A needed title change. The New Day duo plowed through the entire Raw tag division in record time and even scored a pair of clean wins over Benjamin and Alexander on Raw. The title change gives Benjamin and Alexander a needed credibility boost while putting Kingston and Woods in the chase position. I’m still not sure what to make of Alexander essentially stealing the pin from his partner, but I like that his selfishness is making him stand out.
Shayna Baszler and Nia Jax vs. Asuka and Charlotte Flair for the WWE Women’s Tag Titles: Flair’s return didn’t feel like a surprise since many of us have been waiting for it to happen since SummerSlam. Still, it was nice to see her back. Now let’s just hope that they have some sort of a different vision for her character. If she goes right back to delivering cliche royalty lines and leaving people wondering whether she’s a babyface or a heel, then it’s only going to be a matter of weeks before it feels like she never took time away. The actual match was fine. I assume we’ll get a rematch at some point. Once that’s over with, here’s hoping that main roster creative finally gets it right with Baszler. What’s so difficult about booking her as the badass bully of the women’s division like they did so successfully in NXT?
Big E, Daniel Bryan, Otis, and Chad Gable vs. Sami Zayn, King Corbin, Shinsuke Nakamura, and Cesaro: This was better than the average Kickoff Show match. Big E scored the win over Zayn to set up their Intercontinental Title match on the Christmas night edition of Smackdown. Big E also showed good intensity after Zayn insulted him in the backstage area by saying that he’s been treading water since he went solo. Otis and Gable are solid mid-card comedy and what they’ve done so far is an upgrade over awful Shorty G. Corbin is still saddled with the ice cold royalty gimmick that apparently isn’t going away now that he’s added Wesley Blake and Steve Cutler to his act. Nakamura and Cesaro seem sadly cemented as mid-carders. But what’s the deal with Bryan spinning his wheels? He’s mentioned that his deal is coming up soon. Even if he’s leaving, the company should get the most out of him by building him up so that someone can benefit from beating him on his way out the door.
WWE TLC Misses
“The Fiend” Bray Wyatt vs. Randy Orton in a Firefly Inferno Match: Perhaps it’s appropriate that WWE closed out its annual pay-per-view schedule in the train wreck year that is 2020 with this abomination. The image of Orton setting the scarecrow version of The Fiend on fire was embarrassingly awful. Yes, this will have defenders. You can find someone to defend anything these days, but that doesn’t mean it’s actually good. The defenders will compare The Fiend to Undertaker and Kane. The defenders will compare the angle to the comic book-like universe that Lucha Underground created. And yet I remain convinced that the defenders are dramatically outnumbered by fans who just don’t want this in their pro wrestling product. In fact, this struck me as yet another potential jump off point for frustrated viewers. It struck me as a desperate stunt designed to pop a Raw rating. And perhaps there will enough curiosity to see how they follow up on this madness that the number will improve. Hell, how could it not after last week’s record lows? But once viewers see the resurrection of The Fiend (during Christmas week no less), things will go right back to normal. And normal on Raw these days is a terribly booked show that relies on desperate stunts that deliver temporary boosts and ultimately do nothing to stop the bleeding. Will Vince McMahon ever realize that he’s not just one big stunt away from turning around Raw? Stunts are designed to bring in more viewers and they can pay off nicely if those added viewers like what they see and get hooked on the product (see Mike Tyson appearing on Raw back in the day). But when viewers watch a show following a big stunt and they see that the overall product is terrible, they end up leaving just as fast as they arrived.
Gimmick matches that favor heels: Both TLC matches featured outside interference that’s legal per the match stipulations. We see this obsessively in WWE in Triple Threats and other multi-person matches, No DQ matches, falls count anywhere matches, Money in the Bank matches, etc. WWE ruined the cage match by booking so much outside interference that they had to create the Hell in a Cell match, but they can’t even get through most HIAC matches without outside interference. It’s reached a point where there’s no pity to be had for the babyfaces. They all look like dopes for entering these matches and not having any sort of a backup plan to counter the outside interference that everyone watching at home knows is coming.