WWE TLC Review: The Empress of Tomorrow Arrives Today

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WWE TLC took place Sunday night at the SAP Center at San Jose in San Jose, California. This stacked card was bursting at the seams with 12 announced matches spread over the pre-show and the main show. In the main event, Becky Lynch defended her SmackDown Women’s Championship against Asuka and Charlotte Flair. Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins had their first face-to-face match-up since Ambrose’s bitter betrayal back in October, and the new Daniel Bryan put on one of his best matches of 2018 with AJ Styles for the WWE Championship.

Fabulous Truth vs. Mahalicia  

I was surprised this match made the main card and knocked Elias-Lashley to the pre-show, but it does lend this Mixed Match Challenge Final a bit more importance. Shout-out for Carmella and R-Truth for getting an extra loud crowd reaction rocking the black and teal colors for the San Jose Sharks, especially Truth’s hockey sweater with the San Jose logo. I enjoyed the Singh brothers taking part in the Dance Break, but there wasn’t a whole lot of meat on the bone here in this bout. R-Truth and Carmella are certainly entertaining, but this match was a little slow, a little plodding and a little stale. To be fully honest, the crowd was enjoying it during and after the match, so maybe it was a good choice for the opening bout. 

Winner: Fabulous Truth          Time: 5:50       Rating: 2 Stars

The Bar (C) vs. The New Day vs. The Usos 

I’ve never been a fan of these multi-team tag matches where only two people are allowed in the ring at once. Especially when you have three of the most energetic, hard-working teams at ringside, it feels like a missed opportunity for some high-paced action in a tornado tag match, let alone some kind of TLC stipulation. Admittedly, there were quite a few cool spots in this match like the Uso cross-body suplex from the top rope with Cesaro on Kofi as well as the return of the Cesaro Swing. This match felt chaotic, but we’ve seen better from all three teams in this bout. The triple threat tag-match stipulation hindered them a bit in the kind of magic and mayhem they could have came up with. Still a good match, overall.

Winner: The Bar         Time: 12:15     Rating: 3 Stars

Braun Strowman vs. Baron Corbin

Rumors have been swirling for the last few days about Strowman’s status in this match. But considering Corbin had a TLC match on RAW on Monday against Seth Rollins, WWE at least had a way of justifying a short match here for Corbin. Introducing an insurance plan of Apollo Crews, Chad Gable, Bobby Roode, Finn Bālor and the surprise return of Kurt Angle was a brilliant idea for dealing with an ailing Monster Among Men. Although Angle got arguably the loudest pop of the segment, Strowman still got a loud “Get These Hands” chant from the San Jose crowd. The turning of Heath Slater in betraying Corbin was a nice cherry on top for this match. Altogether, this was a very fun segment that surprised me and made for a really exciting moment from the crowd seeing the end of the Corbin regime on RAW. 

Winner: Braun Strowman      Time: 16:00     Rating: 3.5 Stars

Natalya vs. Ruby Riott

I really enjoyed Natalya’s promo on Monday night as well as Ruby’s antagonizing in response by putting Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart’s likeness on a table right after said promo. The latter was a nice touch to throw a little more gasoline on this bitterly personal feud. Although it logically appeared that Natalya would lose given she was out-numbered three-to-one by the rest of the Riott Squad, the slow elimination of Liv Morgan and Sarah Logan via tables was a smart storytelling move. (Shout-out to the heavy bump Morgan took through the table at ringside, in particular). I loved Riott smushing Natalya’s face up against the Anvil table decal in the match’s closing minutes. Riott has had a lowkey very successful 2018 with very entertaining matches against the likes of Charlotte Flair, Sasha Banks and here with Natalya. I hope there are big things planned for her in the new year, because she has a phenomenal mix of charisma and wrestling talent that can be utilized on either brand.

I liked the addition of giving Natalya some fore-thought in coming up with a Ruby table decal and wearing the Hart Foundation jacket. I thought for a second they might do a “pride comes before a fall-type finish” with Natalya trying to soak in the moment just a bit too long for Ruby to take the win. But, this was a nice end to the storyline and made a lot of sense in terms of storytelling. Well done by all parties involved.

Winner: Natalya         Time: 12:40     Rating: 3.5 Stars

Finn Bālor vs. Drew McIntyre

McIntyre has been on a tear these last few weeks after taking out Kurt Angle and taking part in the multi-man destruction of Strowman. Although I’m admittedly a huge fan of Bālor, this match didn’t really do a whole lot for me. It was built around the psychology of McIntyre playing with the Demon like a cat wishing for a competition with a cornered mouse, but there were little high spots and moves that got the crowd out of their seats. The late-match run-in by Dolph Ziggler was a nice touch to continue his and McIntyre’s split and add an asterisk to McIntyre’s second loss on the main roster. Not the most thrilling match from these two. 

Winner: Finn Bālor     Time: 12:20     Rating: 2 Stars

Rey Mysterio vs. Randy Orton

In the near future, I hope to churn out another “Hot Takes and Hot Tags” column centered around Randy Orton. On top of his feud with Jeff Hardy and Tye Dylinger, his work with Mysterio has been some of the best he has put out in years, in my mind. This match made good use of the chairs at ringside like the ingenious baseball slide-splash by Rey and the “pendulum” spot where Orton drove Rey’s head into the chair jammed between the bottom and middle ropes. I really enjoyed the back-and-forth momentum in this match by these two veterans. Not much else to say other than this was good.

Winner: Rey Mysterio            Time: 11:30     Rating: 3 Stars

Ronda Rousey (C) vs. Nia Jax

I gave Ronda and Nia’s first match-up at Money in the Bank 3.5 stars. Ronda really amazed me in her first one-on-one match on the main roster and I thought Nia did a great job as a villain in serving as Ronda’s “dancing partner.” While this match wasn’t a stinker, per se, I don’t think this match-up was as successfully done as their dance back in June. Don’t get me wrong, I liked the playing up of Nia’s deadly fist, trying to show Ronda in danger at the threat of a woman taller and heavier than her, or even the back-up artillery in Tamina (albeit she didn’t really make her presence known in the match). This had good action and moves, but something wasn’t clicking in this match for me. Judging by Ronda staring daggers at Tamina after the match, I don’t think this feud is over just yet with Royal Rumble looming next month. 

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Winner: Ronda Rousey           Time: 10:50     Rating: 2.5 Stars

Daniel Bryan (C) vs. AJ Styles  

I’ve really enjoyed “The New Daniel Bryan” on the last few episodes of SmackDown. I feel like this is partially how he feels deep down inside as an environmentalist, but turned up as loud as he possibly can. For a face turn that was starting to become a tad stale, this new heel Bryan has been captivating to watch. One thing that hasn’t changed in the last few weeks is Byran’s wrestling ability, which is still exceptionally strong and can match nearly anyone in wrestling today, even SmackDown’s resident show-stealer in AJ Styles. This new Bryan has become more meticulous and cerebral in using submission holds and stretches to weaken his opponents. He’s a martial arts master suddenly turned bad guy. A modern day “Master of 1000 holds” Dean Malenko.

Above all, this was a technical master-class of a match. Graves really emphasized that AJ might get disqualified or counted-out during the match because it seemed like AJ was brutalizing Bryan to the point of losing his temper as well as the match. AJ spent a majority of his time focusing on Bryan’s knee and ribs with multiple strikes and submissions. In the end, Bryan squeaked a victory out of the momentum of a Styles roll-up. This match was stiff, meticulous, technical, draining, and most of all, fulfilling. Match of the night so far, but this feud is far from over. I hope that they can match this showing again at the Royal Rumble; Or better yet, surpass it.   

Winner: Daniel Bryan Time: 23:55     Rating: 4 Stars

Seth Rollins (C) vs. Dean Ambrose

I don’t know how you all feel about this feud, but I really think it peaked in October and has been going downhill ever since. The initial turn on the night of Roman Reigns’ announcement was absolute gold, and the following weeks where Ambrose slowly opened up about his frustrations with Seth and Roman added another layer of context to the Lunatic Fringe’s character. But in the last few weeks, the numerous “your town stinks” promos haven’t added anything of value to the feud. Rather, they’ve added groan-inducing heat to a heel character who could have been a main roster equivalent to Tomaso Ciampa.

One thing about this match that made me cringe was the back-and-forth vitriol between Corey Graves and Renee Young on commentary, with Graves trying to pry into the real life couple’s social life and Renee not having anything of it. I’m not sure what the direction is for Renee’s character on television, but I feel like a Stephanie McMahon-Helmsley-esque turn from 1999 would do her and Dean’s character a bit more credibility.

The match was fine by itself, but lacked any “fire” that would have taken it from good to great. Dean targeting Rollins’ knee at least provides an out and an explanation for any sluggishness or lack of finishing off his former friend. The crowd in San Jose even thought this was less than stellar by breaking out an audible “This Is Boring” chant. Obviously, the crowd knows that each man can go, and considering both are embroiled in a seemingly bitter feud, this would have been the perfect opportunity to put on the match of their lives. We didn’t see that here. Hopefully, the eventual rematch will realize that potential.

Winner: Dean Ambrose          Time: 23:00     Rating: 2.5 Stars

Becky Lynch (C) vs. Charlotte Flair vs. Asuka

I’m glad this match got the nod to be the main event. Becky has been the hottest thing going in WWE in the last few months, but after her injury in late November and the Royal Rumble coming in a few weeks, there are a number of ways WWE could have taken the finish for this match. Shout-out to Charlotte for taking an absolute beating in this match. Between the powebomb spot where she hit her head on the table, the ladder legdrop on the German announcer table by Lynch and the Senton bomb to Lynch outside the ring, she looked like an absolute Iron Woman.

This match felt like the next chapter of the Lynch-Flair bloodfeud, but with the added bonus of a little extra Asuka spice added in. That’s not a bad thing by any stretch. Asuka brings a unique fighting style that forces her competitors to become a bit stiffer and a bit more warrior-like. The introduction of Ronda was a great addition to add some more depth to Ronda’s character and to further the storyline with Becky as well as Charlotte going into 2019. But, the most important thing at the moment is there is a new Smackdown Women’s Champion, and her name is Asuka. Despite losing her undefeated streak at WrestleMania to Flair and losing twice on back-to-back pay-per-views to Carmella in head-shaking fashion, the ship appears to have been righted now with her climbing the metaphorical and literal ladder to win her first championship belt on the main roster. I haven’t felt this feeling of “You Deserve It” for a WWE character since Bray Wyatt won the WWE Championship at Elimination Chamber last year. With Becky and Charlotte assumingly tied up with Ronda in the immediate future, I’m not sure who’s Asuka’s first opponent. But, I suppose that doesn’t matter right now. Right now, it’s all about the reign of the Empress of Tomorrow…today.

Winner: Asuka            Time: 21:45     Rating: 4 Stars 

Overall Thoughts: TLC was a mixed bag, in my opinion. There was a little good, a little “meh” and a little in the middle. Match of the night honors go to Daniel Bryan and AJ Styles, with the TLC triple threat of Lynch-Asuka-Flair behind them by an eyelash. I also want to shout-out Ruby Riott and Natalya for third place on the night because I thoroughly enjoyed the story each of them told in their match. I was disappointed by Ambrose-Rollins, but hopefully they can find a way to make up for it here in the next few weeks. I would have liked to have seen a few more stipulation matches on an “extreme” pay-per-view like TLC, but the matches that did have a stipulation certainly delivered. Overall, a show that had more good than bad.

Final TLC Rating: 3 Stars