When life gives you booty, you make booty-ade. When life gives the WWE potentially interesting story ideas, they make stagnant feuds that go nowhere and help nobody. I should really learn to stop giving them the benefit of the doubt, so at the very least I won’t have to explain how my cautious optimism at the end of each PPV Review was shattered by the RAWs in-between. This time around, my dim hope that Roman Reigns might develop as a character after the latest encounter with his nemesis, the Money in the Bank briefcase, turned out to be entirely misplaced. Nope, Reigns is still a whiter slab of white meat than Sheamus, trying to sell the phony underdog story even though he’s a God Hand-wielding Samoan cyborg in a kevlar vest who makes women faint like they’re in a Jane Austen novel if he passes them on the stairs. Daniel Bryan, he ain’t, no matter how badly WWE Creative wants him to be. Anyway, his comeuppance for spearing his boss like an idiot was being told that he was an idiot and then suffering no additional consequences. He got his rematch for TLC, all the foreigners banded together as a heel team, and the New Day issued an open challenge for their tag titles and immediately regretted it. Some other things might have happened, but they’re probably not important, so let’s roll on into Tender Loving Chairs 2015.
First of all, check out our new stars graphic, courtesy of Cynosure Gaming’s own Veudy Simon Cen! Anyway, it’s almost shocking to me how the New Day can come out every week (sometimes two or three or four or five times a week) and deliver these incredible, unique pre-match promos. You’d think they would run out of material at some point, but they just get better. This time around, we’ve got Big E flopping on his back and writhing in pain to illustrate Jey Uso’s shoulder injury, we’ve got Woods explaining that he didn’t do anything wacky with his hair because he doesn’t want to waste a good hair day on Boston, and finally, the New Day decides to pose for the next WWE themed Wheaties box cover. And yes, TLC hadn’t even ended before someone made this beautiful dream a reality.
So alright, unlike last month, I actually have a match to talk about, and HOLY HELL was it a match. We started off with the New Day dominating, as Big E pinned both challenging teams to the barricades outside the ring using their own ladders and Kofi set up a giant ladder of his own. Xavier Woods sat in on commentary, supposedly due to complaints about the New Day’s third man shenanigans, but really because nobody else on the announce team can tell the Lucha Dragons apart, let alone call a match. I know it’s become a running gag that wrestlers are better on commentary than the actual announce team, but the joke is starting to get old and we’re all starting to wonder when Dean Ambrose is going to get the title and turn the whole announce table into an aquarium. I can’t complain too much, though, because Xavier Woods on commentary is money. For some reason, he’s the only one who seems to notice when the babyfaces do something stupid (spoiler alert: it happens a lot), and he gleefully calls them out on it like any normal human being would.
For instance, see the above screenshot? See how both Lucha Dragons are perched on the turnbuckles, about to moonsault out of the TOTALLY EMPTY RING with the ladder PERFECTLY POSITIONED under the titles? Your heroes, ladies and gentlemen. Instead of trying to win the match, the Lucha Dragons and the Usos have just decided to outdo each other with crazy spots, and while this makes for a really dumb story in the ring, it also makes for some really dumb entertainment. Sometimes, that’s the best kind. For instance, after the Lucha Dragons moonsault away from victory and land on the New Day, the Usos get in the ring and…take down the ladder. They throw the ladder at the teams on the outside, then throw THEMSELVES at the ladder. It’s stupid. It’s awesome. Sometimes these things go hand in hand.
The New Day proceeds to destroy the Usos in the corner, doing their traditional foot stomps with the aid of a ladder. Woods even leaves the commentary desk to provide the music. When he returns to the desk and Lawler comments on his music inspiring the others, Woods casts himself as the bard in the classic RPG adventuring team that is the New Day. I’m not using a metaphor here – he actually explains the mechanics of being a bard. “That’s a person who plays music to buff their team, Jerry.” Who the hell thought we’d be getting Final Fantasy references on commentary at a WWE Pay-Per-View in the Year of our Lord 2015?
But the best is yet to come. Kalisto plants a ladder on top of Big E, and while he’s climbing, E bench presses the ladder and Kalisto goes tumbling onto the Usos. Then, he and Kofi get overwhelmed by the other teams and it’s just the Lucha Dragons and the Usos in the ring. All four men start scrambling up the ladder, until Kalisto and Jey Uso reach a stalemate at the top. In one of the most instantly rewatchable moments of the night – actually, make that the whole year – Kalisto turns around and performs the Salida del Sol on Jey, landing on a ladder bridge below and snapping the damn thing in half. If you haven’t watched the PPV yet, or you don’t have the Network, yes, it is as glorious as it sounds.
Oh, and just in case you thought we were done, the finish is SPECTACULAR. All caps. After some more shenanigans, Kalisto is alone in the ring and climbing the ladder. Michael Cole calls him Sin Cara, because he’s either legally blind or talking in his sleep, but whatever. Xavier Woods corrects him like a boss, points out that the match is no DQ, picks up his trombone, and hurls it like the goddamn Spear of Longinus into Kalisto’s back. Kofi runs in, slings Sin Karalisto off the ladder, then takes the titles. Honestly, my heart wants to give this match five stars, but from a storytelling standpoint, it was mindless chaos. It was two teams of excitable dogs throwing themselves into furniture vs. the New Day, but the very things that made this match dumb also made it a work of over-the-top genius. Kalisto’s SDS from the top of the ladder will likely go down in ladder spot history, and the New Day were perfect from beginning to end. Unfortunately, this was the first match of the night, so where do we go from here?
If you want to know how dull this match was, go back and rewatch Smackdown, then imagine the entire middle of the match is just Ryback and Rusev trying unsuccessfully to suplex each other. Also, imagine that Michael Cole is an actual blind man using echolocation to call matches like a really crappy Daredevil, because this time around he manages to get Rusev and Ryback mixed up. Somehow. Anyway, you might as well watch Smackdown because it’s literally every match that Ryback and Rusev have had since their “feud” began. Can we call it a feud? What are they fighting over? What are the stakes? If Ryback wins, are Rusev and Lana not allowed to make out on TV anymore? If Rusev wins, does Ryback have to be the ring bearer at his wedding?
As far as I can tell, the only purpose that this match serves is the return of Unstoppable Submission Monster Rusev, and if that’s the case, I can’t hate this as much as I hated his feud with Ziggler. Any match where Rusev gets to put the Accolade on someone and make that face is an improvement over him getting hit with a shoe and pinned by a man half his size. But instead of Lana as his detached Russian handler who can only break the Accolade with a wave of her hand, now she has to walk over and kiss him, which is a huge downgrade. Remember when they used to be cool and professional and dominant? It’s kind of hard to maintain that when you have to make out on the entrance ramp for ten minutes after your match. I say have to, because I doubt this was their idea, and everything they do now just screams “Vince McMahon’s idea of what a romantic relationship looks like.” So yes, Rusev may have won the match, but he’s still in Hell, and we still have to watch. Can I go back to talking about the New Day?
First of all, check out that fake-ass “Facebook” screen that somebody in the production truck slapped together in about 5 minutes. It looks worse than the Tex Mex clip art dream sequence. Second of all, this feud makes about as much sense as Ryback vs. Rusev, but at least it’s been in the oven a little longer, and tonight heralds the official demise of Mexamerica, an idea so bad that even WWE could see it was time to cut and run. The match itself isn’t awful, either. I was never a fan of Swagger, and Del Rio is hit or miss, but they were both in decent form here. The match begins with a chair duel, which is how all chair matches should start, with Swagger getting the upper hand and taking Del Rio outside, where he half-heartedly bounced Del Rio’s head against the ghost chairs set up around the ring.
Del Rio gets back in the ring with a chair of his own and scores the first chair shot of the night. I appreciate that Swagger sells chair shots like his balls are being put in a vise. Del Rio attempts to run him into a chair set up in the ropes, but Swagger stops himself and Del Rio gives him a backstabber instead. There are a couple good reversals and counter-reversals in this match, like when Swagger tries to hit a Swagger Bomb, but Del Rio gets the knees up, Swagger sees it and jumps over him, grabs his legs for the Patriot Lock, Del Rio kicks him away into the ropes and gives him a tilt-a-whirl backbreaker on the rebound. Swagger recovers and puts Del Rio in a chair-assisted Patriot Lock (how does the chair make it worse? Hell if I know, but at least he’s using the stipulation).
In the first of many instances of people being buried under things, Del Rio gets Swagger to the outside and starts burying him under a pile of chairs for…some reason. Del Rio gets back in the ring, no-selling his leg, which was supposedly injured from the Patriot Lock, and he sets up another pile of chairs in the corner of the ring for – you guessed it – another tree of woe double foot stomp. Did Swagger not watch Survivor Series? Has he never seen Alberto Del Rio wrestle once since his return? He takes the footstomp like an idiot, Del Rio wins, remembers to sell his leg, and that’s that.
Bray Wyatt (and, by extension, the Wyatt Family) functions like an inverse John Cena. Whereas Cena will lose one inconsequential match and then win three important ones, Wyatt will lose one important match and then win three inconsequential ones. Case in point: After losing four on two to the Brothers of Destruction and ending their last storyline on a wet fart, the Wyatts decide to take on the Dudley Boyz because it’s a team they know they can actually beat. The Dudleyz call in some other aging ECW vets like Tommy Dreamer and Rhyno to even the odds, and here we are at a tables match. Apparently the hardcore legends of ECW were willing to do the job for everyone except Erick Rowan, who suffers the first elimination and the only Wyatt elimination. I wasn’t kidding when I said a lot of people get buried tonight.
This has all the stereotypical hallmarks of a hardcore match, with kendo sticks, trash cans, traffic signs, and even a cheese grater (?) thrown in the mix, but they don’t really do anything with any of it (unless you call pretending to rub a cheese grater on Braun Strowman’s balls “doing something”). All the spots are as safe and vanilla as can be, and the Dudleyz are a walking disaster tonight, though not in a good way. Hilariously, there’s a botch early on when Rowan tries to put D-Von through a table with a splash, but Rhyno launches him off the turnbuckle and he lightly brushes against D-Von on the way down. The table then collapses when D-Von rolls off of it, and everyone has to scramble to cover for it. The announcers claim that he didn’t go through the table, so he wasn’t eliminated, and the ref slides in a new table for the Dudleyz to 3D Rowan into. But what would a PPV be without a botch from D-Von Dudley? Appropriately, he suffers the first elimination on Team ECW.
The team then buries Strowman under a pile of tables, which is kinda not the point of the match. Kinda the opposite. But this is a night of burials, so there you go. Dreamer and Rhyno are both eliminated like chumps, and Bubba tries to light a table on fire, but either he screws it up or burning tables were deemed too hardcore for this hardcore tables match, because he gets triple-teamed and chokeslam eliminated before the table catches fire. Like the first match, this one didn’t make a ton of sense and was mostly a collection of dumb spots, but unlike the first match, they lack the New Day’s next level character work and, ironically, they play it safe.
So, here’s the good news. Kevin Owens vs. Dean Ambrose was an entertaining match. Ambrose’s offense is all clotheslines and reversals, but Owens is creative enough and athletic enough to make him seem like a champ. Here’s some more good news: Dean Ambrose won the Intercontinental Championship, which is probably his second PPV win of the year, and he’s long overdue for a high profile win. He may be all clotheslines and gentle flailing in the ring, but he’s charismatic as hell, and if only WWE could somehow fuse Dean Ambrose and Roman Reigns together, they’d have a star bigger than Stone Cold Steve Austin. I wish I could be more excited about this victory, but here’s the bad news.
This match is, almost beat for beat, an abbreviated retread of Owens vs. Ambrose at Survivor Series. When the match started with Owens grinding down Ambrose with chinlocks, I figured that was just how Owens works. When Ambrose did his dumb breakdance rebound on the apron, Owens countered it with a fallaway slam and I started to get a sense of deja vu. When Kevin Owens goes for the pop up powerbomb, Ambrose leapfrogs it, Owens tries again and gets pinned with a reverse rana, I realized we were watching the same damn match. It was a really good match the first time, and it’s still a good match here, but it’s starting to wear thin. Kevin Owens is the only guy on the roster who gameplans his opponents, so why is he losing in the exact same fashion here that he did last month? Shouldn’t he, I dunno, kick Ambrose in the face when he tries the reverse rana? Also, we may not have gotten Old Bull Dean Ambrose in this match, but his wacky faces game is top shelf.
JBL seems very concerned that Ambrose’s face will be on trucks and magazines, like winning the Intercontinental Championship automatically puts you in the running for Time Magazine’s Sexiest Man Alive. Look at that face, he says. JBL, I invite you to use the internet someday and find one of the many dark corners where Dean Ambrose fangirls lurk, writing erotic fan fiction and throwing knives at pictures of Renee Young. I don’t know about Time Magazine, but I’m pretty sure Tumblr has already voted him as the Sexiest Man Alive.
The story here – and bear with me while I try to untangle the pile of garbage that has been every Divas storyline since the Revolution began – is that Charlotte, Paige, and Becky were best friends, until Charlotte won the title, at which point Paige became jealous (because of course she did) and started claiming that Charlotte didn’t deserve it because she only got here because of her family. Charlotte insisted that she accomplished everything on her own and she didn’t need her dad to be successful, and Becky has just kind of floated in-between taking pins from everyone else in the division. I think at some point Paige might have said something disrespectful about a member of Charlotte’s family, but they don’t ever talk about it or show it on recap videos, so it must not have happened. So Charlotte beat Paige a bunch of times, but then Becky challenged her to a friendly match on RAW and Charlotte suddenly started cheating the hell out of the match. Ric Flair was at ringside. Suddenly, it seemed like everything Paige had said about Charlotte was true, but only after Paige was proven wrong multiple times on PPV and RAW. Now we’re having another Charlotte vs. Paige title match (?) and this time, Charlotte is coming out as the living embodiment of that thing she’s spent her entire career trying not to be.
How does this work? Who’s in the right here? The audience is so damn confused they don’t even really cheer for Paige anymore, and she’s the most over Diva in the division that’s not related to Snoop Dogg. The match is fine, as all these matches tend to be, with Charlotte changing up her style significantly now that she’s decided to just be Female Ric Flair. It’s fresh, which is something this matchup desperately needs, but it’s also really sad. Especially if you’ve seen that episode of Table for 3 where Charlotte, Tamina, and Natalya talk about trying to carve out their own personalities and trying to avoid copying their fathers. It’s kinda hard to enjoy the match when everything around it is so terrible, and I can’t help but think that Ric’s tomfoolery would be fun if we had even the slightest idea why he’s doing it. Charlotte has never once needed him to pull her leg under the rope to avoid being pinned, and she’s never needed him to sabotage a turnbuckle so she can use it as a deadly weapon, so why now? That’s exactly what happens, by the way. Paige gets driven into an exposed turnbuckle and she sells it like a sledgehammer shot, so she gets pinned. Again.
The only upshot of this is that it seems like Charlotte is headed for a feud with Becky, and while I’m kinda tired of all Charlotte everything, I am absolutely ready for Becky to be a real character on the show and I am even more ready for a consistent face to take on a consistent heel, so if we can just slam our heads against a wall until we forget how we got here, this could potentially be the best feud the Divas have had in forever.
The more I thought about it, the more I liked the idea of Sheamus vs. Roman Reigns. Suddenly, having Sheamus win that damn briefcase earlier in the year doesn’t seem like such a huge mistake. Reigns excels when he gets to work with guys who like to legit beat the hell out of each other, such as Brock Lesnar and Alberto Del Rio, so being the masochistic albino giant that he is, Sheamus makes for a perfect opponent. One on one TLC matches generally put me to sleep, because they were designed to work with a lot of moving parts, and when there are only two guys in the ring to set up all the spots, everybody’s just sitting on their hands for thirty seconds to a minute at a time, waiting for the next furniture collision. This match started off strong (style) with a massive clubbing forearm from Reigns that left a big red welt on the left side of Sheamus’s face, but before I could even think “holy crap, these guys are gonna kill each other,” the crowd started chanting “WE WANT CENA! CENA SUCKS!” Almost before the first punch was thrown.
The crowd never really stops dumping on the match, either, and this could be for a couple of reasons. First, that tag team triple threat was almost three hours ago, and the crowd’s emotional high has long since been killed off by a mediocre middle show. Second, we have the same problem here that we had in the Divas Championship match. Sheamus is a jerk, but so is Roman. He speared his boss for no reason and pretends he’s this victimized underdog when he clearly isn’t. Who do we cheer for and why do we care? There’s no clear answer to this question, so instead, the crowd chants for John Cena, Seth Rollins, and CM Punk, who were the last three people they remember caring about. The fact that one of these guys has been gone for two years should tell you everything you need to know about the state of WWE’s Creative department.
Anyway, the match itself is really good if you can ignore the crowd, especially by singles TLC match standards. It still drags, but the lengthy set-ups are punctuated by moments of ultra-violence you would normally expect to see in a Brock Lesnar match. Sheamus looks like he’s been in a car accident by the final stretch, which is appropriate considering how desperately WWE wants to sell TLC as a “demolition derby.” Reigns appears to have the match won, but because the match is no DQ, the League of Nations interferes and starts beating down Roman. Also, because Roman Reigns has the worst friends in the company, neither Dean Ambrose nor the Usos come out to help him. Again. He fights off Rusev and Del Rio, but not in time to stop Sheamus from climbing the ladder and winning the match.
RIP Triple H (1969-2015)
Even though Reigns is still standing, the League of Nations celebrate like they’d just won the World Cup, which is a huge mistake considering the guy has a habit of spearing people completely unprovoked. This time, he’s been kinda sorta provoked, so he launches himself into their goofy human pyramid and bowls them over. He then starts beating the hell out of all of them, which is a sore losery thing to do, but at least this time it’s somewhat justified. Roman really should consider beating up Dean Ambrose and the Usos, since they consistently do nothing while he gets screwed, but we’ve got to make Roman look strong and look like an underdog simultaneously, so here we are. This is all standard-issue post-match beatdown stuff (except for when he speared the League of Nations like a stack of bowling pins, that was pretty great) until Triple H and Stephanie come out to defuse the situation. H gets in the ring, and he’s not exactly doing anything evil or underhanded. He’s just trying to stop one of his employees from murdering three others on TV. So Roman murders Triple H instead.
This is not last month’s awkwardly placed spear. This is a violent, systematic beatdown on a guy who really doesn’t deserve it and isn’t fighting back. What’s that? Why does it seem like I enjoyed this more than the attack on Triple H last month? Well, for one thing, it felt real. Doing a finisher on someone is such a “wrestling” thing to do, you know? Spearing Triple H felt artificial, unearned, and in the end, it didn’t mean a damn thing. Tonight, he just beats him senseless, throws him onto the Spanish announce table, and then elbow drops him through it. What really makes this work is the way everybody reacts to it. H is lying motionless in the rubble with his arms sticking up like a dead cockroach, Stephanie is leaning over him and yelling “He’s not even blinking!” Even the announce team does a fantastic job of selling this scene. Instead of the obligatory Face Opinion, Heel Opinion, and Michael Cole Opinion, everybody’s just kind of equally horrified.
I think that’s what makes it work. Nobody on the mic is saying Roman Reigns might be doing the right thing or that Triple H deserves it. They all agree that he should be fired and probably arrested. That’s the real reaction you should have to this scenario. That’s why, when Roman starts to leave, changes his mind, and runs back to spear Triple H out of his loafers, it doesn’t feel artificial or meaningless. Cole memorably yells “He’s a wild man! He’s an absolute wild man!” not because it fits the WWE’s mission statement of making Roman Reigns look like the cool, heroic dude facing insurmountable odds. It does just the opposite of that, but for once, they don’t try to spin what’s happening right in front of them into something it’s not. For once, it feels like everyone’s on the same page. That page happens to end with Triple H drooling on the floor.
I’m not going to bother making optimistic predictions about where they’ll go from here, because I’ve been burned one too many times now and I’m not going to fall for it again. I suppose all wrestling fans have to go through this phase sooner or later. I will say that, judging this PPV on its own merits, it was surprisingly good, as it was bookended by great matches/segments and the stuff in the middle was boring and mediocre, but not abjectly terrible. Of course, I’m a little late in getting this review out there, and I’ve read some spoilers from RAW that make me a little more optimistic about – no! Bad! No more optimism!
- Tag Team Championship
- WWE World Heavyweight Championship
- Intercontinental Championship
- Paige vs. The Turnbuckle
- The Legends of Softcore vs. The New Faces of Table Spots
- Two guys whose names start with R.