By Matt Straub
WWE had every reason to mail in the TLC Pay-Per-View. No one could have expected them to put on a good show after the two biggest matches were lost due to a spreading illness just days before the show. WWE didn’t even have another episode of Raw to use to try and throw something together. Instead of folding, however, WWE came up with a strong show which, while containing some holes, delivered a fun night and kept the ball rolling toward Survivor Series. WWE got through the night in such a way where they can pick up where they left off if everyone comes back Meningitis-free soon, or with some options if large parts of the advance plans for Survivor Series are out the window.
Still, not everything was perfect. WWE did well for itself, but didn’t put all of its workers in the best light. Let’s look at who left Minneapolis feeling good and who wishes they were the ones who got sick.
Asuka: She was everything Nakamura wasn’t in his debut. She wrestled well and showed personality. The match was booked well as well. Usually I hate seeing the person debuting have a tough match, especially against someone who is essentially a jobber, but Asuka sold Emma’s offense in a way which made sure neither wrestler looked weak. She also added some personality to the match. It was fun, and I liked her style. When she was done I wanted to watch her on Monday, which is what you want from a debut.
Mickie James: Yes she lost the match, but the whole program with Alexa Bliss was about her, as was the match. She was great and lost in a way which didn’t make her any less relevant come Monday. She could fight for the title again tonight and no one would argue the logic. She was also honest during her promo on the kickoff show, calling out the stupidity of the angle by mentioning the ages of several other wrestlers. Then they gave her a promo in the ring after the match. I thought for a second she was going to retire, but she said she wanted another shot, so she’s not going anywhere. I’m not quite sure why they’re building her so much, but she’s great and I love it.
Enzo Amore: OK, so apparently his push is going to continue, as he is now a two-time Cruiserweight champion. He put forth his best effort in a long time in the ring, and gets to be the star again on the next 205 Live. And I give him credit for delivering a promo with his bad throat, even incorporating it into the story. With Neville out I can’t imagine who he’s going to wrestle next and why we’d care, but that’s not his fault.
Kurt Angle: WWE took a big risk putting him in the main event on less than a week’s notice, and he was solid. Not everything he did worked, and he looked at times both tired (he’s old and rusty) and out of place in the TLC match (he’s more of a traditional wrestler), but he certainly didn’t look bad. He was an asset to the match and not a hinderance, which is all you can ask considering the circumstances.
WWE creative: Speaking of circumstances, the people who put together the two big matches on the show on short notice deserve a lot of credit. For all the times we rip the writers on this site, I need to acknowledge they did a phenomenal job pulling this show off. The booking of the Finn Balor-A.J. Styles match was great, as A.J.’s legitimate excuse gives him a reason to lose without ruining the potential for a future match or Styles’ character. The main event was wild, but also worked. I assume Kane-Braun was going to happen even before the changes to the card, and Angle was put in positions to succeed. The main event worked on its own, even without considering why it happened. Making it work under tough circumstances was impressive.
Alexa Bliss: She won the match, looked good doing it, and probably will go on to bigger feuds. So how could she be a loser? Because from the buildup to the post-match activities, this program was all about Mickie James. Even after Bliss won the match, James gets an interview afterwards. Sure Bliss is still the champion, but it felt like Mickie James Night, so Bliss doesn’t exactly have a lot of momentum going into her next feud.
Braun Strowman: Not even two months ago, Strowman was the darling of the WWE Universe. People were wondering when he was going to be the top face in the company, if not the WWE champion. Now, after a stunning and stupid loss to Brock Lesnar which took him out of the title picture, he’s now about to start a feud with 50-year old Kane, who won’t be able to give him a great match or a meaningful program. Kane is a sure-fire Hall of Famer, but he’s to the point where beating him doesn’t propel you to the next level. Strowman is too charismatic not to be back near the top of the card, but for now he has fallen hard. Oh, and he got put in a trash compactor. We probably should mention that here, too. It’s the second time in just a few months the fans have chanted “that was murder” after a Strowman bump. When he was dreaming of being a pro wrestler, he probably wasn’t thinking, “maybe someday I’ll get thrown into a trash compactor.”
Dean Ambrose: He did his part in the main event match, but the first time the Bar threw him into a table it didn’t break, and then when Kane chokeslammed him through another table it either didn’t break or he didn’t land flat against it, because he bounced in an awful way. And if you’re unfamiliar with the inner-workings of pro wrestling, if you’re the guy taking the bump you really want the table to break. It looks better, and, more importantly, actually can hurt less than when the table doesn’t break. The main event was well-booked and memorable for Kurt Angle’s return, but Ambrose’s back will remember this show for weeks to come for different reasons. Remember kids, this stuff is choreographed, not fake. There’s a big difference.
Finn Balor: His match with A.J. Styles was good in terms of its actual execution, but it was clearly missing something. You could tell there was a lack of story to it (for obvious reasons), which came across in the match. The crowd was into it because it was a match everyone wanted, and it was really good, but a large part of what makes a wrestling match work is the feud and the emotion. Great matches tell a story. This was two guys hitting wrestling moves for no reason. The next time they meet will be better. Balor is a bigger loser than Styles, however, because the night left him without anything to do going forward unless Bray Wyatt is back soon. He needed the win tonight, but with the title picture already locked up for next month, it’s hard to see Balor doing anything more than a tag match at Survivor Series unless Wyatt is cleared.
A.J. Styles: The match was good. Styles deserves tons of credit for needing nearly an entire day to fly home from South America and still giving us a good match. He even has a built-in excuse for the loss, so it won’t hurt him in the storylines. But going through all that trouble just to lose clean in a meaningless match must not have been fun.