By Matt Straub and Brad Carroll
Well, TLC certainly just got more interesting, didn’t it?
With an illness ripping through the company (rumored to be meningitis) and costing the company the services of Bray Wyatt and Roman Reigns for at least Sunday, if not the foreseeable future, WWE is in one of the most unique situations in its history. All the company’s writers have to do is work in two new matches, and write endings for them which make the fans who bought TLC happy, set something up for Raw, but don't obliterate the old direction in case the scare is just that and everyone is back soon.
The main event and one of the most involved angles in some time (think of the special effects involved) have been significantly altered, if not ruined, meaning the biggest parts of the show had to be completely redone, and all in the span of a couple days. The rest of the show is a mixed bag of awful booking, silly structure and potentially strong work. The good news for WWE is how unforgettable the rest of the card has become.
This PPV will go down in history. It will have entire podcasts and shoot interviews done about it. But no one will remember half the matches. This will always be the night the main event got scrapped, a huge star and faction were lost, and the work of the special effects guys was wasted. So let’s look at the new card and decide if it’s a waste of time.
Sasha Banks vs. Alicia Fox (Kickoff Match)
Matt’s Breakdown and Pick: It’s insane booking decision number one, as this match is the kickoff. Why is this insane? Let’s count the ways. First, it means a match which is pile of flaming garbage is on the main card, which we’ll get to in a minute. Secondly, why wouldn’t you put Asuka in with a great worker and big name right away to give her instant credibility with those who haven’t seen her yet? Sasha’s character would have been fine after a loss to Asuka, and Sasha the performer would have helped ensure the match is terrific. Instead, Sasha gets stuck on the kickoff match with the suddenly relevant Alicia Fox. Banks can afford a loss to Fox, which makes sense here if only to provide a reason for this match. If you’re not using Banks to make Asuka, you might as well help her make Fox. If that’s still possible. Fox wins while I shake my head.
Brad’s Breakdown and Pick: I think Straub is getting all riled up for no reason here, as this match is really just a way to get Sasha Banks, someone who has nothing to do, on the PPV for some exposure, not to mention a paycheck. That’s all. Banks is going to win this match, but very few people are actually going to care enough to tune in early to watch it happen. This first breakdown sounds like ornery Straub is back, so get ready.
Cedric Alexander & Rich Swann vs. Jack Gallagher & The Brian Kendrick
Matt’s Breakdown and Pick: No seriously, this is on the main card. Really. A future Hall of Famer is on the kickoff show, and this match is happening on the main show. Kendrick, who I like only because he calls himself “the,” mentally abused Gallagher until he snapped, and somehow this made them friends. And I guess now their thing is they want to make sure only tough guys are on 205 Live. Because there would be weaklings who didn’t want to fight wrestling professionally. In this match, they face two other people no one cares about. Gallagher and Kendrick win, and I die a little inside watching it all.
Brad’s Breakdown and Pick: Yes, this shouldn’t be on the main card, that’s indisputable, but it’s likely here to break up the final two bouts and could run right before the main event. That’s the spot WWE puts the matches nobody cares about so the crowd and fans watching at home get a quick break and can get themselves prepared for the main event. This match is here also because WWE is pushing hard for 205 Live to be successful, which is now without Neville, the only true star they had. Neville may or may not leave WWE, it all seems to be rumors for now. Again, though, this is a match nobody cares about, so go with the faces to win.
Asuka vs. Emma
Matt’s Breakdown and Pick: I’ll leave the Asuka scouting report to our NXT expert Brad Carroll in a moment, but first let’s talk about the importance of booking early in a new superstar’s run. I assume WWE has big plans for Asuka, which means they have to do this right. Don’t have her lose matches during her build like they did to Nakamura. Don’t muddle or bog down her character’s motivation like they’ve done to Finn Balor. And don’t stick her in meaningless matches like they’ve done to … Asuka. Seriously, they should have given her a real opponent to give her immediate shine like they did for Bobby Roode. I know Dolph Ziggler isn’t the second coming of the Rock, but he’s a big name. Asuka is going to get a win over Emma in a match which probably won’t be any good because Emma is in it. While the work in a debut match is big (as Nakamura found out when he started with a clunker), the atmosphere is a big thing as well. This match won’t have any, and it immediately gives off the vibe that Asuka is just another wrestler. It’s a big missed opportunity which Asuka will have to overcome herself. At least she starts with a win.
Brad’s Breakdown and Pick: I would have liked to have seen Asuka go against Alexa Bliss right away and win the Raw women’s title. Asuka is going to win the title anyway sooner rather than later, so WWE might as well have done it now and get right into a new era of women’s wrestling. Then have everyone challenge her, and lose, for the next several months and even years. Remember, Asuka never lost in NXT. She’s not going to lose here either, even though Emma is a lot better than Straub gives her credit for. She’s actually talented in the ring, but just hasn’t and probably never will catch on as anything more than a glorified jobber in the women’s division. This match gives Asuka the chance to win easily in her debut and doesn’t bury any potential big-time opponents in the future, like Sasha Banks, Bayley or Nia Jax. Asuka wins and we’ll wait and see if WWE capitalizes on something great.
WWE Cruiserweight Champion Kalisto vs. Enzo Amore
Matt’s Breakdown and Pick: Speaking of missed opportunities, it’s Enzo Amore. I give WWE credit for revitalizing his career after the horrible way they buried him while trying to make Big Cass a star (a push ruined by a real-life injury). The writers, however, missed a chance to make Enzo a Cena-style, if not Cena-level, face. The guy is a hero to little kids who want to wear his wigs and sing his catchphrases. So what does WWE do? They make him a heel. The kids who are young enough not to get it will continue wearing his wigs, but he loses a big part of his demographic if the fans aren’t wanting to cheer for him. If not, he just becomes an annoying guy who can’t wrestle and talks for 20 minutes for no good reason. His feud against the entire 205 roster has actually fed off the fact that in real life no one likes Enzo, which led to Neville’s departure from WWE because he didn’t want to lose to Enzo again. By the way, remember when the entire 205 Live roster gave up future title shots just for the right to punch Enzo in the face? Two weeks later, they were working with him. No amount of money he could have given them makes that part of the angle make sense. Finally, how bad is the 205 roster that the savior who beats Enzo finally is Kalisto? Enzo gets his belt back because there’s literally nothing else to do with this division right now. WWE should just cut bait on the whole thing and save some money by wishing half these guys well in the future.
Brad’s Breakdown and Pick: Enzo is a heel in every way imaginable. The guy is a jerk, doesn’t shut up and is the prototypical guy to boo, not cheer, even if little kids think he's cool cause of his outlandish hair and outfits. So WWE making that switch and handing him the keys to 205 Live made total sense. Possibly getting rid of Neville in the process ruined it all, but the idea was still the right one. But then WWE got the title off Enzo immediately, giving it to Kalisto for no apparent reason. Either way, this is another match nobody will care about. I guess Enzo wins the belt back because he has to.
Finn Balor vs. A.J. Styles
Matt’s Breakdown and Pick: Of all the changes to the show, this one upsets me the most because I was quite pleased with my rant about how stupid the Sister Abigail gimmick was going to be. We’ll probably see it at some point, as WWE has a ready-made feud it can just restart when the health scare is over. In the meantime, if they were ever going to give us a standalone match without any buildup, this is a great one. This exemplifies WWE’s thoughts on the debate we talked about in the open. This is a dream match which could have been saved, but WWE wants to save this show instead. Having these two work an angle someday won’t be harmed by a single, meaningless match, as long as it’s a competitive one. Which means WWE needs this match to be good. Lucky us. Balor wins while WWE scrambles to find him something to do.
Brad’s Breakdown and Pick: The crazy turn of events gives fans one of the most anticipated matchups the WWE has to offer, as Finn Balor and AJ Styles, two former leaders of the Bullet Club, go one-on-one in what has the potential to be a classic. I'm just not sure if the pair has the time to put together a great match, one that easily could have main evented any WrestleMania. It's not the best case scenario, but nobody should be complaining, as this will be way better than the Bray-Balor version. Balor will win the match because this is a Raw PPV, but it makes sense to have some kind of trickery, maybe with Jinder Mahal costing Styles the win.
Raw Women’s Champion Alexa Bliss vs. Mickie James
Matt’s Breakdown and Pick: Mickie James just turned 38 years old. She’s 13 months younger than I am. If she’s old, Bobby Roode, AJ Styles, Nakamura, Brock Lesnar and John Cena should all retire immediately. Everyone I just listed is older than Mickie James. Kane, who is 50, is in the main event of this card. Asuka, the “Empress of Tomorrow,” is 36. If Mickie James is old, WWE has a huge problem on its hands, since they push so many old wrestlers. If you know anything about the real-life workings of WWE, this storyline falls flat immediately. James has done well to make this feud work as best she could, but between the lack of drama in the outcome and the hypocrisy of the angle, no one could make this work. I love Mickie, but she has no chance here.
Brad’s Breakdown and Pick: Mickie James is a placeholder contender until Asuka gets her shot against Alexa Bliss, but that doesn’t mean she and Bliss haven’t done a solid job in building up this match. Sure, James isn’t “old” but that’s not the point, it’s a way to generate heat between two women who wouldn’t have had heat otherwise. It also makes people believe James has a shot to win, when she really doesn’t. So, Straub is right with everything he says when it comes to age, but this is wrestling, where reality rarely comes into play. This really is just another filler match where the outcome is obvious and no one would really care. Bliss wins and maybe Asuka makes another appearance to start what would be a great feud.
Kurt Angle, Seth Rollins & Dean Ambrose vs. Braun Strowman, The Miz, Kane, Cesaro & Sheamus (Tables, Ladders & Chairs 5-on-3 Handicap Match)
Matt’s Breakdown and Pick: This one is a shame. Once again I get WWE wanting star power to make sure people still get the show, but bringing Angle in on short notice creates problems. First, from a storyline standpoint, WWE will need a good reason for Angle to get involved, and fast. I think they would have been better off having Miz cut another promo about Jason Jordan to make Angle mad, but then they couldn’t announce him for the match ahead of time. WWE went with shock value here, but might have been better served setting Angle up, perhaps even for next month. Also, do we know if Angle can even still wrestle? If he wasn’t planning on this, is he in any kind of shape? I would be fascinated to know exactly when WWE knew it had a problem with this show, and if they know how long the absences will be. It leaves WWE in a bad spot for Sunday because they have to do something to make the show work, but give themselves something to work with for the future. Whatever they do can’t destroy the future plans which were set, in case Reigns is back soon, but has to give them a direction in case he’s out for a long period. It’s an impossible situation, and whatever they are forced to do robs us of what should have been a fun match. While we should all be glad to be rid of the Sister Abigail routine for a bit, I was really looking forward to this one. There was so much to love and hate here with the original feud. First, judging by the reactions of the crowd, I’m not the only one who loves the Shield’s reunion. They got a “this is awesome” chant Monday simply by entering the ring in unison. They were broken up a year too early, and the fans are letting WWE know they weren’t done with them by making them insanely over. It’s only been a couple of weeks, but they were already getting Daniel Bryan-like pops. They’re so over right now, people rooted for Roman Reigns on Monday night. It’s a shame Seth Rollins gets shuffled out of the title picture (oh, did you forget Raw had a world champion? So did WWE). It stinks for Strowman that his run near the top lasted such a short time, but he’s about to get swallowed up by a strangely-easy loss to Lesnar and facing a group which had t-shirts one hour and three minutes after reuniting. This will be my favorite WWE stat for a while: It was one hour and three minutes from the time the Shield officially reunited to the time they had new t-shirts for their next appearance together. Strowman’s character is the most up in the air. If he loses to 2/3 of the Shield, he takes a big hit. He might stay strong in the new match, however, since he might be needed for singles action again soon. As for what was the Shield, I for one don’t have any problem with the reunion. Brad ripped WWE for having them for going back to the past in our original preview, but look at how many times the Four Horsemen, the greatest group in the history of wrestling, reunited, or how many iterations the NWO had. Sure WCW ruined them, but no one thought less of Hogan or Nash for going back to the gimmick. It works, the fans are in love with it, and it’s easy to write. Here’s hoping the Shield is together for awhile this time. Not just for the fans’ sake, but for WWE’s. I don’t have a winner for tonight, but we’re all losers or losing out on what we were going to see, and for what we might be subjected to going forward.
Brad’s Breakdown and Pick: I completely agree with Straub about using Kurt Angle here, as WWE absolutely should have waited for a bigger moment and a bigger build to put the Raw commissioner back in the ring. Most people who tune in for Sunday's TLC PPV won't even know Roman Reigns won't be wrestling in this match and therefore won't have any clue as to Angle's involvement. The WWE could have had something big, but it has gone up in flames due to what might be a serious health issue. The Shield also takes a big hit. Before this development, the reunited Shield proved one thing: The WWE ran out of ideas. With no world champion to lean on, and having ruined its built-up monster and main event creation, Braun Strowman, the WWE had to come up with something, hence the Shield reunion. It makes no sense, as Reigns and Dean Ambrose shouldn’t be doing anything with Seth Rollins, pretty much ever, but again, this is wrestling, where reality means nothing. They were even making decisions on the fly with the Shield’s first feud, as it started with the Miz and Miztourage, switched to the Miz and Sheamus and Cesaro, and continued to include Strowman and then finally Kane. This match should be fun to watch, mainly because of the stipulation, but the outcome isn’t in doubt, only the future direction of the entire promotion is. Angle won't get much in-ring action, but he'll likely get the Angle lock on the Miz and get the win for his team. The match no longer means anything, however, and I'm not sure it ever did. Where does WWE go from here? I don’t think even Vince McMahon knows. And that's a scary thought for fans.