When wrestling fans scour the television landscape in anticipation of pivotal moments in WWE history, the Tables, Ladders, and Chairs pay-per-view isn’t the top candidate to produce such moments.
That’s an understatement. TLC is a “gimmick” pay-per-view, built around a particular, extreme match type. That gimmick serves as a substitute for critical storyline events and feud-ending matches that headline shows like Wrestlemania or Summerslam.
Yet, more and more in recent years, WWE seems willing to use the “in-between” PPVs for important plot elements that fundamentally affect the product for months or years to come. A case-in-point would be not only the creation of a PPV around the Money in the Bank match, but, specifically, the 2011 event, which set into motion major shifts for the company that remain relevant over two years later.
All of which brings me to this Sunday.
We’re being led to believe that this “filler” show will, in fact, alter the very structure of the company. Unifying the two world titles will change everything from the way Raw and Smackdown are organized to how Money in the Bank and Royal Rumble work. It will also reduce any confusion about who the standard-bearer is for the company at a given moment in time.
But what’s actually going to happen on Sunday? Let’s look at it:
Fandango[o] vs. Dolph Ziggler: I’m really hoping that the reason for this match is to allow Ziggler to get some kind of momentum going by winning at a big show (albeit on the free, warm-up portion). I’ve said it before, but I declared in 2010 that Ziggler would be the top heel in the WWE, if not the company’s biggest star, within 18 months. The time came and went, as did another 18 months, and, for reasons I still don’t fully understand, that ascent didn’t quite happen. Now, Ziggler battles it out with Damien Sandow for “I think this is supposed to be a push, but he always loses” honors. If Ziggler can’t beat the possibly-soon-to-be-renamed Fandango, that’s a very bad sign – possibly one that indicates a transition to full-time stand-up and acting may be forthcoming. Winner: Dolph Ziggler
Cody Rhodes and Goldust (c) vs. RybAxel vs. Big Show and Rey Mysterio vs. The Real Americans — WWE Tag Team Championship: I’m concerned that WWE will do here what WWE (sometimes regrettably) has done in the past and put the tag titles on two singles wrestlers just to give them something to do for the moment. The fact is that this match includes two very good teams in the Rhodes Brothers and the Real Americans, and another team that might have some potential in RybAxel. Big Show and Mysterio would be the worst choice to win. And that’s why I’m worried. I think the Rhodes Brothers retain, but a title run by the Real Americans may be coming shortly – and would be fun for everyone. Winners: Cody Rhodes and Goldust (retain titles)
Big E Langston (c) vs. Damien Sandow — Intercontinental Championship: Sandow, one of my absolute favorites, is getting a push that embodies the very essence of “poop or get off the pot.” He wins the Money in the Bank briefcase. He loses nearly every match thereafter. He engages Cena in a compelling confrontation. He becomes the first person to lose a MITB cash-in cleanly. He immediately becomes the #1 contender for the IC title. So, which is it, WWE? Is Sandow the wave of the future (I hope), or is he destined to be a jobber-to-the-stars (I think)? The bigger problem from an entertainment perspective is that he’s semi-dropped his “intellectual savior” gimmick. Yes, there are still bits and pieces, but it’s largely missing, and he rarely gets to cut a promo at all anymore. This is not progress. Anyway, they won’t abandon Big E this quickly after he won the strap in the first place. Let’s hope Sandow gets back to making good on his anti-Cena proclamation in the near future. Winner: Big E Langston (retains title)
A. J. Lee (c) vs. Natalya — WWE Divas Championship: Friend of the site Stephanie Sottile was rightly incredulous at the fact that A. J. Lee, well on her way to being the greatest female wrestler of all time, didn’t win the Slammy for Diva of the Year. However, I pointed out to her that CM Punk didn’t win Superstar of the Year for the year in which he was literally the WWE Champion for the entirety of those 365 days. The lesson? The WWE Universe is stupid sometimes. Or, alternatively, “App is Crap.” Winner: A. J. Lee (retains title)
Daniel Bryan vs. The Wyatt Family: The first of two 3-on-1 handicap matches, I think these are here mostly to set up a Bryan / Punk alliance for the next little while. So, either Bryan is about to lose and gets saved by Punk, or he loses and “joins” the Wyatt Family, something that’s been hinted at, but I don’t think anyone is clamoring to see. Bryan needs to get back into the title picture heading for the Royal Rumble. He should lose here because it’s 3-on-1, but he’ll probably eke out a victory somehow after Punk comes down to ringside to distract Bray Wyatt. Either way, just don’t have him be tangled up in a “John-Cena-joins-the-Nexus”-type storyline. Winner: Daniel Bryan
CM Punk vs. The Shield: Think back a scant eight months ago (with eight months being like three years in “wrestling time”). The Shield was so powerful that it defeated – at Wrestlemania, no less – a team consisting of the Big Show, Sheamus, and current WWE Champion Randy Orton. Now, they’re probably an underdog in a 3-on-1 match against Punk. Yikes. The Lord (Vince McMahon) pusheth and the Lord burieth. As with Bryan’s match, this could also go one of two ways – depending on whether or not WWE is ready to break up The Shield yet. That’s obviously coming, with dissension building between Ambrose and the rest of the group. Best guess is that Ambrose either doesn’t tag in fast enough or doesn’t tag out fast enough (possibly distracted by Bryan), costing the Shield the victory. The WWE may hold off on having Reigns and Rollins beat Ambrose down, however. But that’s coming. Trust me. It’s just a matter of time. If not now, then at the Rumble. Winner: CM Punk
John Cena (c) vs. Randy Orton (c) — WWE & World Heavyweight Championships: And, now, the big one. This will be a tables, ladders, and chairs match – which is a great way to pay homage to the (claim) that the WHT is the same one that’s been around since 1905. I mean, I’m sure Lou Thesz recalls many a TLC match of his back in 1949. A fitting tribute!
Anyway, as I said at the top, we’ve been told (“guaranteed,” in fact) that there will be one champion after TLC. Yet, my first thought was that this entire program was an attempt to get Cena to grab the WWE title and Orton to grab the World Heavyweight Title in a belt switcheroo. Although HHH claims there’s no more brand extension, which is technically true, Cena really doesn’t work Smackdown much. Yet, the WHT is still tied to Smackdown. So, they do a fake-out on the unification, swap the belts, and set up a real unification at Wrestlemania between whoever happens to hold the titles come April. Plus, would they really dump “Big Gold?” Would they really dump a WWE Championship belt design that debuted less than a year ago? That points to preserving both titles in some way.
But then I saw the contraption they’re using the hoist the belts. It looks more like it’s attached the same way a MITB briefcase is, with each belt already strapped to it. While it would be possible to do a belt-swap, it seems more likely now that both belts are specifically designed to be grabbed together with that gold-painted hook thing.
Also of note during the ascension ceremony is how it ended: With HHH at odds with Orton, and Cena standing with the Authority after Orton inadvertently bumped into Stephanie McMahon. Why is that important? Orton has been the “corporate” champion, but with a twist: It seems like he manages to keep his title, but always winds up being abandoned by the people who are supposed to be helping him (HHH, Kane, The Shield, etc). More than once, he’s wound up in the trainer’s room, complaining about his lack of trust in the Authority and their allies.
Moreover, this whole unification business (kayfabe) started after the McMahons had a meeting with Cena that irked Orton. The obvious set-up is that HHH will ultimately back Cena over Orton.
Why? Because Cena is the face of the WWE and is what’s best for business.
Although the internet has been clamoring for it for years, this is the first time I’ve ever thought it even possible that Cena may actually turn heel.
Or, they could keep Cena a face, and have the Authority assist him over his objections (sort of the way Vince McMahon tried to help him at Money in the Bank 2011, if you recall). Either way, it seems like Cena is either going to walk out with both belts, or lose them after HHH’s help backfires.
But let me throw one final scenario out: HHH and Stephanie have guaranteed that there “will be only one champion at the end of the night,” as I mentioned. Yet . . . there’s some part of me that keeps thinking it somehow won’t be Cena or Orton. That’s a wild-card scenario, but would anybody really be totally shocked to see HHH wind up as the unified champion somehow? Or what about a returning Sheamus, a real-life friend of HHH’s? Or, hell, what about Chris Jericho in an ultimate swerve?
Nah. It’s probably Cena. With help from some “unlikely” sources.
Winner: John Cena (unifies titles – or just swaps his WHT for the WWE Title)
Whatever happens on Sunday, one thing is clear – this will be the PPV that kicks off the “Road to Wrestlemania,” setting in motion the events and feuds that weave and intertwine on the way to New Orleans. The main event of TLC, especially, should set the stage for the Royal Rumble and beyond.