December 14, 2015 by Joey Keogh
It’s doubtful anyone was particularly excited for TLC 2015, the final PPV of the year. And the fact the Network was down for a significant number of fans, across the globe, for about half of the pre-show didn’t help encourage our enthusiasm (although at least we didn’t have to listen to Byron Saxton and Corey Graves wax lyrical about their “favourites” for another goddamn hour). The servers kicked back into gear, for most of us, just in time for the women’s match between NXT faves Sasha Banks and Becky Lynch, a match that could’ve easily found a spot on the main show – perhaps in place of the dreadful Ryback/Rusev bout that seemingly took precedence over it.
To add insult to injury, Banks is a Boston native, so as a home-town hero one would expect her to at least be granted a small, starring role in the PPV. Instead, she was relegated to a 15-minute match that, although exciting and inventive for the most part, was inexplicably interrupted by a commercial for the Royal Rumble(!) and ended rather unspectacularly with Lynch tapping out. Elsewhere, Alberto Del Rio taught Work Experience Tom (still trying to be a bit edgy with his rubbish beard) how to pronounce his name correctly before having a backstage pep talk with his League Of Nations buddies. There was some chat, too, but the less said about that the better.
The main show kicked off in the best way possible, with The New Day – consistently the best thing about WWE programming, week to week – proving just how bloody good they are on the mic by garnering some major heat thanks to Woods’s lack of a proper hairdo. The problem with this lot being trotted out first, of course, is that it starts the PPV off on a height from which it can only really descend slowly, if not plummet spectacularly as is the case with the match that follows. Regardless, the triple threat tag match for the titles is more thrilling and shocking and fun than it has any right to be, even with Woods (his team’s secret weapon) stuck on commentary throughout.
Hilariously, he corrects Cole for mixing up Sin Cara and Kalisto, a move that, whether scripted or otherwise, is genius in its honest reflection of what all fans have thought of the broadcaster at some point or another. As this is a ladders match, there are some gnarly spots, but in the end it’s a simple trombone toss that seals the deal for The New Day, as they retain the titles in a stunning display of athletic ability that even, somehow, makes The Usos look good. Unfortunately, we’re sent crashing back to earth immediately afterwards with the arrival of nobody’s favourite wrestler, Ryback, whose main goal in life seems to be to ruin everyone’s fun.
He takes on Rusev again tonight in the exact same match they’ve been having for the past few weeks, complete with Lana‘s fake injury spot, which doesn’t really work considering The Big Guy looks like the type of meathead idiot who would hit a woman and not care. The crowd are D.O.A, and who can blame them given how massive and jarring of a comedown this is? The end sees Ryback passing out in the Accolade. The jokes write themselves, really. It’s more of the same next as Alberto Del Rio takes on Jack Swagger for the US Title, in a short display that screams “I did this for the money”.
There are a load of chair spots here; both dudes running into them, being hit in the back with them, and even using them as lightsabers of sorts at one point. Swagger even manages to hit the Patriot Lock using one as collateral, but Del Rio retains regardless, surprising nobody. It sounds terrible, but it’s kind of hard to care about the outcome here. Both of these matches could’ve easily taken place on a random RAW and the reaction from fans would have been just the same, if not more enthused. Thankfully, and somewhat shockingly, they’re followed up by something amazing happening: The Wyatt Family actually winning a match for once.
Taking on The Dudley Boyz, Tommy Dreamer and Rhyno, in an 8-man tag, one could easily discount this match as time-wasting bullshit – why bother with oldies when there’s so much young, fresh talent on the current roster? Let’s face it, The Dudleyz can do this shit in their sleep so really this match is all about putting Bray and his swamp brothers over. And that they do with some fast, fun and suitably loony table-based action that culminates in, who else, Baby Styrofoam nabbing the win. It’s annoying to see the newbie steal the victory, particularly as he’s dull as the river water Wyatt surely bathed himself in earlier, but a win for these guys is a win for us.
The wins, and surprises, keep on coming with two of WWE‘s hottest properties laying waste to each other next, in the most old school match of the night. Refreshingly gimmick free, the IC title bout sees Kevin Owens and Dean Ambrose trading blows, beating the shit out of each other and talking shit – nothing more, nothing less. And it is magic. From the outset, we know we’re in for something special as Owens comes out and berates Boston for taking credit for the work of their sports-heroes. Much like, he claims, his opponent. Clearly thinking he has this in the bag, Owens sells every move like it’s his last, screaming a “What!?” of utter disbelief after Ambrose recovers from a rolling senton from the top rope.
Later, one, solitary finger stops Ambrose from stealing the title, only for him to counter Owens’s classic Pop Up Powerbomb and roll him up for the win. It’s easily the most shocking moment of the night as, aside from being the only title change, the quality of the pacing and storytelling allows us to suspend our disbelief long enough to root for both of these guys to win. It really feels like either of them could win, too, which is not something that could be said, for example, of the Rusev/Ryback match or even the dread-inducing Main Event (more on that later). Hopefully this gives further credence to the IC belt, as it’ll be exciting to watch Owens and Ambrose kill each other over it before ascending to the ranks of the WHC title race.
The Divas are up next, with ex best friends (or so we’re told) Charlotte and Paige set to duke it out (figuratively, because they’re still girls duh) for the title while Ric Flair waddles around ringside, dressed like an eighties movie villain, trying to convince everyone he’s only had a couple tonight. The real question hanging over this match isn’t whether Flair will cheat again (she most definitely will), it’s who is the real heel here? Is it the girl who dresses in black and yells a lot? Or is it the golden child who betrays her friends to get ahead? The answer is still kind of unclear following this bout, but we’re getting closer.
It’s difficult to critique women’s matches in the same way as the guys’ because we so desperately want these ladies to be given their due, and NXT provides an unfair comparison. On the plus side, Charlotte and Paige absolutely destroy each other tonight. On the negative, they’re not given nearly enough time (the Main Event is gifted a whopping 45 minutes – less than the two women’s matches combined) to shine and the ending sees Papa Flair helping his daughter cheat to win. It’s a match full of great moments, like Paige hitting a Figure-4 and Charlotte powering out of it with great difficulty, that aren’t given nearly enough time to achieve their full potential.
There are tonnes of near falls, but the action moves on so swiftly it’s difficult to absorb all of them. And the winner seems predetermined once we know Flair has her Dad in her corner, screwing the finish for her. An awkward post-match moment with Becky Lynch blurs the lines even further as it seems Charlotte is being pushed as a half-heel, half-face hybrid. If she was turning completely against her NXT character, her behaviour would be entirely justified. As it stands, it’s as though the women are being given half a storyline to work with and none of them know how to act as a result, meaning it’s unclear who we’re supposed to be rooting for, or turn against.
The Main Event, on the other hand, is entirely clear cut with Roman Reigns being booed out of it the moment he steps into the arena. They’re really, really, really trying to put this guy over as some kind of underdog, with replays of the now-infamous tater tots incident and a skewed recap of his feud with Sheamus thus far that seem to paint him as the lowly victim. The problem is that Reigns is never going to be the underdog, in the ring or out. He looks and is being sold as Baby Rock, some sort of unstoppable brute, powering out of painfully dull prop spots and even the White Noise through a table tonight in a display more suited to a John Cena than a Daniel Bryan.
It doesn’t help that the guy has the charisma of a potato and can’t sell or act anything to save his life. The Boston fans, predictably, shit all over this match but Twitter reacts a bit kinder to Reigns, with many calling for those unhappy with his trajectory to acknowledge what he’s putting his body through to entertain us all. That’s fine but, after thirty minutes of he and Sheamo beating the living hell out of each other, with the latter retaining the championship, it’s hard to argue for empathy when Reigns hops up as though he’s completely fine and Spears and Superman punches everyone in the vicinity, including the League Of Nations (who have rushed to help their friend) and Trips.
The assault on the boss actually lasts much too long, by anyone’s estimation, and although the Boston crowd seem to warm to it, it seems like the wrong way to go. Now Reigns just looks like a sore loser, or a hothead as JBL is wont to refer to him. If he’d simply lost by way of Sheamo’s meddling buddies and laid there in a heap in the ring, it might have inspired some sympathy for him. He could’ve returned on RAW the following night and demanded yet another shot, or even complained about how exhausted he was. Now he’s just the same old Superman he’s always been and it’s hard to give a shit what he does next. All things considered, Reigns may finally be (sort of) over with the fans, but it’s going to take a lot more to make him a real contender.