By Matt Straub and Brad Carroll
The lengths I had to go to in order to do my half of this month’s wrestling preview have been extraordinary. I overcame one of the worst illnesses of my life, which basically wiped me out for eight days, and I had to use a notebook computer, which I hate and is way too small for my hands, after my laptop died a hideous death. The lengths you’ll have to go through to watch TLC feel just as cumbersome, as WWE has decided we need 12 matches for a card which is one of its placeholder PPVs, usually a pit stop before the road to the Royal Rumble begins.
There’s just no need for half of the matches on this card, and a couple of the bigger attractions have big names, but no point. All totaled, this year’s TLC is a mess. It will shape some storylines, yes, but many of those will turn before we get to the Rumble anyway. On the bright side, there could be some excellent matches, even if you won’t remember them six weeks from now. You’ll have to fight your way through this show, but you’ll breeze through another informative, entertaining preview. Let’s get to work.
WWE Champion Daniel Bryan vs. AJ Styles
Matt’s Breakdown and Prediction: There’s no way this is the last match, but WWE lists it as the main event, and the WWE title is the real, most prestigious belt in the history of wrestling, even if it isn’t always presented as such, and even if the old-school NWA fans would kill me for saying so. For those reasons, we’ll talk about this first. I’ll give WWE credit for building an angle with some actual suspense, as I don’t have a strong feeling about the result here at all. Bryan finally has a direction, which he lacked for much of his comeback, but it’s not an interesting one, and fans have shunned it for the most part. AJ has long been rumored to want a break, so some time out of the spotlight might not be a bad thing for him or his character. He had long ago cleared out the division, holding the belt for a year, and could feel fresher with some time off before an entrance late in the Rumble. Keeping the belt off him works here, even if it means having to suffer through more Daniel Bryan. Of course, after my autumn of football picks, I feel confident about nothing.
Brad’s Breakdown and Prediction: Unfortunately for our loyal WWE readers and PPV viewers, Matt is completely right on this card … it’s beyond bad and worse, long, with only one match (one!) on the entire slate that holds at least a sliver of interest to me and probably everyone else. That, and I’m guessing I don’t have to tell you, but will anyway, is the triple threat match for the SmackDown women’s championship. That’s it. Not even the prospect of a Daniel Bryan and AJ Styles match brings with it the excitement typically reserved for such a pairing and the stakes it has. It’s a championship match between two of the best wrestlers in WWE today, but man oh man, I just don’t care. I love Styles, but he’s lost a lot of his luster recently, and obviously especially after losing the title in unceremonious fashion on an episode of SDLive. Bryan is at least somewhat watchable now with his heel gimmick, as I really detested his face return from injury. He was boring and stale and acting like a jerk, but not in a cool, heel way. At least he has some juice back, though. Bryan isn’t about to lose the title this quick with his new push as a heel, so he’s going to beat Styles again, possibly with a low blow (why is everyone attacking Styles’ manhood; is that in the scouting report as his major weakness?). Styles could take some time off, as Straub mentions, while Bryan takes on the next face challenger. More on the latter will present itself on Tuesday. And, no, this will not be the main event, and if it was ever brought up to Vince McMahon to make it such, he would likely just say "play my theme music and you’ll get your answer to that, humanoid."
Intercontinental Champion Seth Rollins vs. Dean Ambrose
Matt’s Breakdown and Prediction: Dean Ambrose has been at his craziest of late, and I for one enjoy it. Rollins, the best active wrestler alive today, has actually done well to show emotion during this feud, but it feels like a story WWE has told many times before. It seems obvious Rollins is going to lose, if only to get him ready for bigger things this winter, but the question is how does WWE give him a loss here without hurting his push towards MetLife Stadium and WrestleMania? I’m not sold on the recent buzz which suggests Seth is winning the title at the Home of the Jets, but I do agree he has something bigger than more matches with Ambrose ahead. Dean wins and gets his deserved push, while Rollins starts a new feud in time for the Rumble.
Brad’s Breakdown and Prediction: I hate to put on my internet troll hat for a moment, but I have to. Straub, Rollins is nowhere near the best wrestler alive today. I won’t even go into the New Japan roster (of which I really only bother to watch Kenny Omega sometimes) so this isn’t me being go-go-ga-ga over anyone who happens to wrestle in Japan, like some others out there, but there’s a handful of guys in NXT who are miles ahead of Rollins right now. NXT! Seriously, watch the Takeover specials, Straub, you’ll be amazed at what good wrestling is and looks like. Check out Velveteen Dream and Aleister Black, among a host of others. Do it. Like now. Anyway, this feud between Rollins and Ambrose had a chance to be good, and then the WWE writers got a hold of the script and has made it into something entirely different. Maybe our readers care about the outcome, and maybe this is just me not being a fan of Ambrose at all, or the Shield in general, but I don’t care one iota who wins or where either goes from here. Why? Because what’s the end game? Is the intercontinental title the real Universal championship, and should we care about it because of that? Maybe that would be enough, but I don’t think anything has been mentioned about the title even being on the line. Maybe I missed it during one of the several unplanned naps I’ve taken during the past few Raw’s, but is this match non-title? Otherwise, this match is happening because Rollins is pissed that Ambrose did to him what Rollins already did to Ambrose. So, why exactly is Rollins pissed and why are these two fighting? I don’t think I’ve ever used this many question marks in a story before. Ambrose will win, but there's no way this feud ends after this. It's going to continue probably all the way to WrestleMania. Oh joy.
Braun Strowman vs. Baron Corbin (Tables, Ladders & Chairs Match)
Matt’s Breakdown and Prediction: One of the biggest reasons there remains so much uncertainty on the road to WrestleMania is the lack of clarity surrounding Strowman’s health. We’ll get a big clue as to how much he can do Sunday, if not a glimpse into WWE’s plans for its biggest (physically, at least,) star. Corbin was going to win this match anyway, as Corbin has shined in his role as an authority figure, running Raw the way Brad runs staff meetings: with efficiency, excellence, and entertainment. He’s not losing control of Raw. Strowman loses due to some cheap shot, which is easy to do in this kind of match, and comes back for the Rumble, if healthy, better than ever.
Brad’s Breakdown and Prediction: Now that Straub has given away my staff meeting secrets, I’m going to have to put him in the Cobra Clutch. Oh wait, Sgt. Slaughter already did that to Straubby. OK, thanks Sarge. WWE wants you to believe Baron Corbin is going to win this match by forfeit, which means it’s an almost certainty Braun Strowman is going to show up and somehow win this match, even with one arm. One way I could see around it, is Strowman shows up, crowd goes wild, is about to fight with one arm (remember, the injury and surgery is legit), until Stephanie McMahon comes down, says he’s not medically cleared and hands the win to Corbin. Strowman gets some kind of knockout in on Corbin, who pays the price for becoming the permanent GM of Raw. I’ll go with that scenario. Corbin continues on as permanent GM, although I’m not sure it completely works on TV, even if Corbin is doing his best work as part of the main roster. It’s not Corbin’s fault, but Raw is a disaster right now.
Raw Women’s Champion Ronda Rousey vs. Nia Ja
Matt’s Breakdown and Prediction: There’s a meme going around showing action shots of all the injuries Jax has caused in recent months. Unlike other memes, it’s not funny. Jax is a danger in the ring and was only interesting outside of it when she was being used as a vehicle for Alexa’s brilliance. WWE is going to try and have Rousey look impressive against a bigger opponent while getting her out of the ring as quickly as possible. Rousey’s interactions with the women we’ll get to momentarily will be longer than her time with Jax, who she’ll beat quickly.
Brad’s Breakdown and Prediction: This match wasn’t really bad the first time these two fought for the title, where Alexa Bliss ultimately cashed in to win the belt, so it’ll probably be OK this time around too. But we all know the final outcome. Rousey wins, and the crowd will boo the reckless Jax, who actually could have punched Becky Lynch right into the main event at WrestleMania.
SmackDown Women’s Champion Becky Lynch
vs. Charlotte Flair vs. Asuka (Triple Threat TLC Match)
Matt’s Breakdown and Prediction: If there’s any justice, this is your main event. Finally, WWE showed signs of waking up recently by giving us a revival for both Charlotte and Asuka, who had an epic match on SmackDown last week. Despite all the attention, rightfully earned, Becky has gotten lately, it will be this duo who shines again Sunday, with one of them coming out of the night with the title. WWE doesn’t want to do title vs. title outside of Survivor Series, so Lynch needs to lose the belt to face Rousey sometime in the next two months. WWE also needs to get Charlotte to Raw to set up her WrestleMania showdown with Rousey, so it’s likely she won’t be champion by March, either. This leaves Asuka, who badly needs a push to get her luster back, and who richly deserves one, to win the title. And if Asuka wins the belt without pinning Becky, easily doable in a triple threat and even easier to do without making anyone look weak in a TLC match, they can always go back to any combination of the three for title matches down the line. Asuka wins while the other two turn their attention to Rousey.
Brad’s Breakdown and Prediction: I’m a little disappointed Straub waited this long to put this match on the breakdown, because this is your main event. If it’s not, then Vince McMahon really has lost his mind. Becky Lynch has been so good she’s not only elevated the women’s division to main event status, but she’s resuscitated the careers of Charlotte (who has been floundering since beating Asuka at WrestleMania) and Asuka (who has been mistreated so terribly since losing to Charlotte that WWE should be brought up on charges of murdering a career). Nia Jax’s punch did stunt the unbelievable ascent of Lynch to the top of the entire roster, men and women, but hopefully she can get it back fully with a win here. There’s plenty of ways to get to Becky vs. Rousey at WrestleMania (the match I and everyone outside of Straub and some Charlotte fanboys want to see) without having Lynch drop the belt beforehand. There's no way Lynch can lose the title now, as she’s the hottest thing going in the entire company. For once, WWE, ride the momentum and the star the crowd has handed you and don’t get in the way. All three will come out looking great, as they should, and the women’s division will close the show with a hell of a main event with the company’s biggest star standing tall with the title raised high.
The Bar vs. The New Day vs. The Usos
(SmackDown Tag Team Title Triple Threat Match)
Matt’s Breakdown and Prediction: In the same conference room where Brad would work his magic in meetings, there was a TV where we’d sometimes watch episodes of Seinfeld. They’d be repeated so often you could recite the jokes as they were coming, but somehow the punchlines worked years after they were delivered. The same is true of the Usos and New Day, who have to be approaching the record for most PPV meetings. If not for the aforementioned obstacles to writing this preview, I’d have looked that up by the way. I now have a project for next month! This will probably be a quick match, and we’ll give the win to the Bar because I think there’s more to do with them than the other two teams. Also, Brad deserves a bright spot on this card, so we’ll give him the chance to wax poetic about the Bar, whom he loves more than I love Ric Flair.
Brad’s Breakdown and Prediction: Seinfeld is indeed the secret to my staff meeting magic, thanks again Straub for giving away all my secrets. This triple threat will be really, really good. That’s a guarantee. But, yeah, this is the same old stuff, week in and week out. WWE needs to do something new, because it’s hard to care when you see the same matches all the time. Even if The Bar is involved, which, yes, I do love as a team. The Bar wins because, sing it, woah, woah, woah, Sheamus and Cesaro.
Natalya vs. Ruby Riott (Tables Match)
Matt’s Breakdown and Prediction: I hate when WWE uses real tragedies in angles. It’s cringe worthy stuff. Even though this match was hastily put together, there’s been too many things said to Natty about her dad in recent months on TV to have this end with anything other than Natty’s revenge. And good for her. We rip her often in this space, but she’s been a consistent hand for the company for years now, filling every role they give her to the best of her limited ability, so she gets a win here.
Brad’s Breakdown and Prediction: Cringe worthy. I’m surprised they are giving these two women this kind of stakes, but good for Ruby Riott, who is fantastic. Natalya? Eh, being Rousey’s “friend” has given her way more airtime than she deserves. Natalya wins because she has to get her revenge. Although, Riott should go over, as she’s got a great future. Hopefully the table spots aren't botched.
R-Truth & Carmella vs. Jinder Mahal & Alicia Fox (Finals of MMC Season 2)
Matt’s Breakdown and Prediction: The rub here is that the winners get the No. 30 spots in the upcoming Royal Rumble matches. Those spots can easily be transferred between now and January, but just in case, we have to pick the winners here with that in mind. R-Truth and Carmella got the biggest streaming numbers during the MMC during their dancing segments, which blows my mind but is reportedly true. WWE might want to give them a push, and there’s ample opportunity to get R-Truth out of the spot later on. We’ll give the faces the win here while mourning the lack of Roode-Flair and Strowman-Bliss this time around.
Brad’s Breakdown and Prediction: These are the two finalists for the Mixed Match Challenge? God help us. R-Truth has gotten his career back thanks to Carmella, who stays relevant by teaming with R-Truth. Don’t know how that works, but it does, seven seconds of dancing at a time. R-Truth and Carmella get the win in the easiest pick of the night. And hopefully we get to see lots of Carmela dancing.
Rey Mysterio vs. Randy Orton (Chairs Match)
Matt’s Breakdown and Prediction: Am I allowed to root for Orton to rip another ear off? His random streaks of excessive violence are the only things keeping him interesting. Nothing else about this will be worth watching. Since rooting for the ear thing is probably wrong, I’ll just hope for Bray Wyatt to come back. Orton wins, no one cares. Unless he does the ear thing. The internet liked that last time he did it.
Brad’s Breakdown and Prediction: This show isn’t over yet? What? There’s four more matches still to break down? Seriously? Holy hell. And speaking of hell, as Straub mentions above, this could be the time for Bray Wyatt to return. It would really be perfect to have him go against Randy Orton again, which this time around would be interesting. I don’t see him teaming with Orton, so I don’t see him turning on Mysterio, unless Wyatt just goes nuts and attacks both of them, which sign me up for right now. For the match itself, this is a tough one, as Orton doesn’t lose and Mysterio is still new enough to keep his push going, and to do that he needs to win. Maybe I’ll just throw out a no-contest prediction, with Wyatt doing something crazy to end it. It’s probably a guaranteed loss on the pick, but nothing ventured, nothing gained.
Finn Bálor vs. Drew McIntyre
Matt’s Breakdown and Prediction: Speaking of things to mourn, let’s talk about Finn Balor’s career. He’s not winning here against a guy WWE plans on pushing to the moon, so this match isn’t really worth talking about. I can’t even rant about how he never got his title shot anymore, since they gave it to him and had him lose easily. But here’s a question: If Balor wins every time he breaks out the unbeatable Demon, why doesn’t he do it every month? Since I’m rolling, let me add that if I could make fire or lightning like Kane and the Undertaker, I’d do it all the time.
Brad’s Breakdown and Prediction: Drew McIntyre might be the guy to finally beat Brock Lesnar and carry the show into the next several years as Universal champion. He’s definitely being played up big enough to do that right now. Finn Balor, well, he’s just another upper-mid carder on the roster who wins some and losses more. Unfortunately, he’s going to lose here. And, yeah, of course, break out the Demon every time, just so I can watch the entrance.
Elias vs. Bobby Lashley (Ladder Match)
Matt’s Breakdown and Prediction: At this point, everyone wants to walk with Elias. The guy is about as over as you can be, regardless of if he’s playing a heel or face. If he’s ever going to have a push equal to his approval from the fans, however, he’s got to start winning matches. This seems like a good time to get the win, which he can get against a wrestler receiving a moderate push. This could be a signature victory for him, though the stipulation makes no sense. These guys could do fun stuff with chairs and tables, but no one wants to see these two climb things. The match will stink, so hopefully we get a moment for Elias.
Brad’s Breakdown and Prediction: Elias is great, although his guitar solos work so much better when he’s the heel as opposed to the face. Bobby Lashley is still boring as hell, even though the heel turn saved his WWE career and the company’s investment in him. Thank Lio Rush for that as well. I’m going to go with Lashley winning, as he needs it more, as the fanbase still isn’t sold on him being at the top of the card.
WWE Cruiserweight Champion Buddy Murphy vs. Cedric Alexander
Matt’s Breakdown and Prediction: Murphy wins because someone has to. Meanwhile, in more important news, well literally anything would be more interesting. How about some baseball picks? The Yankees don’t sign Machado or Harper, but add another big arm. I’m going to guess they trade for Greinke. He’ll age well, Arizona is ready to blow it up, and it’s time for the Yankees to make their move. They have tons of youth on their major league roster to get them through the next few years, they can afford to trade the farm to try and win now. If their bullpen is going to take a hit, which it almost has to, go the other way and beef up the rotation. I also still think they trade Sanchez. As for my Sox, I think they add two bullpen arms before New Year’s and make a surprising trade by letting go of one of their future free agents. Bogaerts for a pair of young pitchers makes too much sense not to happen. Then you can let Porcello walk next winter while freeing up two salary spots to give Mookie all the money. I swear, I don’t know how I’m not a baseball GM. It must be because my background involves watching baseball and not being a math geek with no baseball experience.
Brad’s Breakdown and Prediction: Buddy Murphy wins to keep the division moving in the right direction. There’s still a 205 Live division, right? Straub’s baseball predictions are worse than his wrestling picks. Zack Greinke? There’s no chance in hell the fragile pitcher would ever come to the Bronx. Trade Gary Sanchez? Sounds more like wishful thinking of a Red Sox fan than a true prediction. As for Manny Machado and Bryce Harper, give me Harper for the Yankees all day, although that’s not going to happen. As for the Red Sox predictions, who cares? Leave your wrestling predictions in the comments and follow us on Twitter @gamedayishere.