The build to Tables, Ladders, and Chairs was pretty much perfect. Every single week contributed to multiple stories that were remarkably layered. There was the main event stories all interweaving, with The Shield reuniting to lock horns with common foes, capped off by a shocking return from Kane. There was Braun Strowman finding a way to insert himself into a TLC match, literally knocking down doors to get his opportunity. There was the entire women's division involved in numerous stories, something WWE doesn’t often do. On top of all that, there was the flailing cruiserweight division suddenly revived by the presence of Enzo Amore, who finally got his comeuppance after weeks of entitlement and insults.
Then came Friday, and that changed everything. Illness plagued the locker room. That highly anticipated Shield reunion suddenly wasn't happening, as Roman Reigns was pulled from the card; a huge disappointment considering how pitch-perfect their reunion has been. But, replacing him would be Kurt Angle, which feels so strange to type out and yet remained incredibly exciting as the PPV drew near. Then, Bray Wyatt gets pulled as well, and is replaced with SmackDown Live's AJ Styles, a massive upgrade in a feud that's been uninteresting at best, and laughable at worst. All of this is to say that Tables, Ladders, and Chairswas set up to be a strange, unpredictable night, and that's exactly what we got.
Asuka is here
Let's get to the actual show. It gets off to a hot start with two straight matches that deliver in different ways. The first match of the night sees Emma take on the debuting Asuka, a debut that's been a hot topic of debate. Would Asuka squash Emma? Should she? Will she get beat? I think the match itself is a pretty great use of both women. Emma, who Raw is clearly trying to make more important, gets a ton of offense in, and Asuka comes across like a vicious talent that just needs a single moment to get the win. Does Asuka have more to offer? Of course. But for a first match on the main roster, I think it's a beautifully paced, hard-hitting introduction. They hit every note they needed to, and surely Asuka is about run roughshod over the entire division. If I was Alexa Bliss, I'd be constantly looking over my shoulder.
Cruiserweights actually doing Cruiserweight things
Where that match connects with good psychology and some real good wrestling, Cedric Alexander and Rich Swann vs. Brian Kendrick and Jack Gallagher is almost pure spectacle. It's a match filled with high-flying spots and dramatic hot tags. While everyone shines—Gallagher and Kendrick prove to be an incredible heel tag team—it's Cedric Alexander that steals the show. He gets the hot tag and doesn't let up, flying around the ring before eventually hitting the Lumbar Check and getting the win. He's a likeable dude with great expressiveness in the ring and a move set that puts jaws firmly on floors. This was a star-making type of match. Here's hoping that Raw learns the right lessons from this match. When you let the cruiserweights do what they did in the Cruiserweight Classic, you get dynamic, exciting matches like this one.
The PPV begins to drag
Before TLC gets to its two absolutely massive matches, it gets to the part of the show that feels like an episode of Raw, which is apparently mandatory with every PPV. It’s not just the two Elias performances that are interrupted by a vegetable-throwing Jason Jordan, which leads to their spot in the cool-down match before the main event, there's also Alexa Bliss retaining against Mickie James, and Enzo Amore winning back the Cruiserweight championship.
Those two matches are by no means of similar quality. Enzo vs. Kalisto is largely dull. The pacing is off, Ezno is an underwhelming in-ring performer, and Kalisto isn't a particularly exciting babyface. On top of that, Kalisto is defending, which takes away the one potential hook of this story: Enzo getting his comeuppance. Raw already gave that up, so now all we have is Enzo cheating again and getting his title back again. There's nothing else there.
Now, Alexa Bliss vs. Mickie James is a much better match than that. Along with the other two women's matches on the card, it told a compelling story, really selling the idea that Mickie is an underdog in this situation. But, it felt like there could be more. It felt like the match was missing some of its dynamism because of Bliss' limited abilities. She's a great character, and she's certainly getting better in the ring, but at about the midway point of this match it starts to feel like both her and Mickie have run out of storytelling options.
Plus, Alexa gets the win, and I'm not sure what that accomplishes. Mickie gets her post-match interview where she gets to be proud of her performance, but that doesn't feel like enough. At some point Alexa, much like Enzo, needs to get her comeuppance. That's the whole point of a heel. Without that, you're not only killing the momentum of your potential babyface champ, you're making it look like your champ has no other tools to work with.
Balor vs. Styles is, simply, too sweet
That said, you know who has a lot of tools to work with? AJ Styles and Finn Balor. Their billed "dream match" kicks off the way it should, with a "THIS IS AWESOME" chant before the two have even locked up. The match itself certainly isn't the best AJ Styles has wrestled this year, but it's by far the most we've seen from Finn Balor. Okay, I don't want to downplay it: this was a really, really great match. Finn and AJ have instant chemistry, and they find that sweet spot between well-paced chain wrestling and reversals, and more awe-inspiring high spots.
It's a match that I wanted to see more of, and I think that's the takeaway here: if you just let popular, talented wrestlers go out to the ring and wrestle matches their way, you get a crowd that's hot and down for anything. Storytelling is obviously key, and you need a weekly build to create substantial stakes, but it's also enough to just let two popular guys throw down. Hell, the whole reason the reunion of The Shield works despite the hatred of Roman Reigns is because everybody likes The Shield! It's giving people what they want, no frills, and that's something WWE could do a lot more of.
Kurt Angle, The Shield, and a bonkers main event
Which brings us to The Shield, or at least some version of it. Man, where to start? I guess with this statement: this is a deeply strange match. It's all over the place in both the best and worst ways possible. It's a nearly hour-long match that inspires conflicting feelings from one moment to the next. There's so much to love about the chaos here, and yet it's also difficult to avoid thinking about what could have been.
Look, considering that WWE was dealt a truly horrible hand with Roman Reigns' sickness, this TLC match is just about ideal. It lets Kurt Angle be Kurt Angle, doing all of his nostalgia spots when he's not sucking air on the outside or sidelined by Braun Strowman. It gives Miz a spotlight as a faction leader for a lengthy match. It acts as a storytelling tool for Strowman vs. Kane (which is not something I really need to see, mind you). All of that is wonderful, and there are enough ridiculous spots here to make this thing the glorious car crash it was always going to be.
But, with that said, it's also a gigantic missed opportunity. Looking at the structure of the match, and the way certain stories were told, it's clear that this was meant to be The Shield's moment. Without Roman there's no Shield, and his presence is clearly missed. He's missed in those opening moments when Rollins and Ambrose go nuts and run over every single opponent, as Angle struggles to keep up and convey the intensity needed to sell the story. He's missed in the middle section of the match when, presumably, Angle is getting a rest backstage before his gutsy return. He's missed in the final Shield powerbomb, and he's missed in the entrance. This isn't The Shield, and yet the story is told as if it is.
Everything was building to a triumphant moment for The Shield. Every week for the last month has been about that payoff. And now, because of a cruel twist of fate, we've been robbed of it. Yes, we got plenty of moments to think back on, and the happiness beaming across Kurt Angle's face brings me, a man who has Angle on his personal WWE Mount Rushmore, an immense amount of joy. But the moment also leaves one huge, lingering question: what did we miss out on?
- I love Asuka's angry "Okay, okay, okay" after Emma slaps her, like she was just playing it safe for awhile and now she's ready to kick some heads off.
- As much as Jason Jordan's vegetable bit left me indifferent, I do like the idea of Elias trying to perform multiple times on each show, only to be interrupted every single time.
- I really don't know why Kane attacks Braun Strowman.
- I popped for Mickie James executing hair pulls into kickups. She looked damn good tonight.
- We need a Styles-Balor program, like, yesterday.
- I did not like seeing Rollins' knee hit that announce table. Also, who does a frog splash from that angle?
Sasha Banks def. Alicia Fox (Kickoff Show); Asuka def. Emma; Cedric Alexander & Rich Swann def. Gentleman Jack Gallagher & The Brian Kendrick; Alexa Bliss (c) def. Mickie James (Raw Women's Championship match); Enzo Amore def. Kalisto (c) (Cruiserweight Championship match); Finn Balor def. AJ Styles; Jason Jordan def. Elias; Kurt Angle & The Shield (Dean Ambrose & Seth Rollins) def. The Miz, Braun Strowman, Kane, Sheamus & Cesaro (5-on-3 Handicap TLC match)
What did you think of TLC? Let us know in the comments below!