- From closure with Baron Corbin's dominance to Finn Balor's encouraging win to a vibrant crowd, these are our takeaways from WWE TLC.
Vince McMahon is returning to Raw tomorrow, but if TLC taught us anything, it is that Becky Lynch is still “The Man.”
TLC served as a table-setter for January’s Royal Rumble pay per view, as well as delivered a spectacular triple-threat Tables, Ladders, and Chairs match in the main event between Lynch, Charlotte Flair, and Asuka.
Daniel Bryan had the best match of his 2018 return against AJ Styles, which ended in perfect fashion, while the show also featured a Dean Ambrose-Seth Rollins match that failed to deliver.
Here are the results:
• Cruiserweight champion Buddy Murphy defeated Cedric Alexander to retain his title.
• Elias defeated Bobby Lashley in a ladder match with a guitar suspended above the ring.
• R-Truth and Carmella won the Mixed Match Challenge by defeating Jinder Mahal and Alicia Fox, securing the 30th spots in, respectively, the men’s and women’s Royal Rumble in January.
• The Bar retained the SmackDown tag titles in a triple threat match over The New Day and The Usos.
• Braun Strowman defeated Baron Corbin in a Tables, Ladders, and Chairs match, which removes Corbin from his interim position as Raw GM and puts Strowman in a match with Universal champion Brock Lesnar at the Rumble.
• Natalya defeated Ruby Riott in a tables match.
• Finn Balor defeated Drew McIntyre.
• Rey Mysterio defeated Randy Orton by pinfall in a Chairs match.
• Raw women’s champion Ronda Rousey forced Nia Jax to tap.
• Daniel Bryan pinned AJ Styles to retain the WWE title.
• Dean Ambrose hit Dirty Deeds on Seth Rollins to win the Intercontinental title.
• Asuka won a Tables, Ladders, and Chairs triple threat match over Becky Lynch and Charlotte Flair to become the new SmackDown champion.
Here are my five takeaways from the pay per view:
1 – Baron Corbin’s defeat to Braun Strowman, which included the return of Kurt Angle and provided some closure to Corbin’s abominable run as Raw GM, opens up a multitude of opportunities to freshen up WWE’s flagship show.
Change is necessary in order for the product to thrive. Since WWE is clearly comfortable with the GM position, Raw needs a GM who can capture people’s attention and add something unique to the aged role.
There is no character in the business like “Woken” Matt Hardy. He would add a must-see quality to Raw as its GM that the show has lacked in recent years, and his eccentricity would help explain why his decisions may benefit a certain heel or babyface.
Corbin’s defeat at TLC was an important first step, and with Vince McMahon back to shake up Raw on Monday, the company is in a position to explore new storylines and add excitement to a show that desperately needs it.
2 – In an encouraging sign, Finn Balor defeated Drew McIntyre.
McIntyre is one of WWE’s brightest young stars, but Balor should be a company cornerstone, and he has not been placed in that situation since his Universal title win (and subsequent injury) at the 2016 SummerSlam.
Skeptics can look at the victory over McIntyre and point out that it took outside interference and a steel chair for Balor to get the win, and that the post-match interview signaled that Balor’s next program will be with Dolph Ziggler, but the timing is opportune to move Balor to SmackDown. He can challenge Shinsuke Nakamura for the United States title, as well as make a move for Daniel Bryan’s WWE championship.
Balor, 37, is the same age as Hulk Hogan and Randy Savage were at WrestleMania VI in 1990, and the same age as Shawn Michaels when he wrestled Chris Jericho at WrestleMania XIX in 2003. This is not the time for patience. With Brock Lesnar the champion on Raw, Balor needs to be put in a position where he can be pushed as one of the company’s top stars and champions.
3 – Even with Daniel Bryan as WWE champion, AJ Styles simply cannot finish a pay per view in its main event.
Styles and Bryan went on third from last, but delivered a match worthy of headlining any wrestling pay per view in 2018.
In addition to a strongly defined hero and villain, the encounter featured some of the best wrestling, accentuated by being well timed and logical. Styles emptied his arsenal only to have Bryan reverse an inside cradle for the pinfall victory.
Bryan can now deliver upon his promise to unveil a new, leather-free WWE championship belt on SmackDown, which adds even more depth to his “New Daniel Bryan” character.
As for Styles, the “Phenomenal One” needs to return to Raw as part of the brigade that will infuse the show with some new life.
4 – Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins came up short in their Intercontinental match at TLC.
Despite featuring two of wrestling’s best talents, the pacing of the match was slow. The crowd at the SAP Center in San Jose voiced its displeasure with the match with a “This is boring” chant. Even with a surprise Dirty Deeds finish that saw Ambrose defeat Rollins and reclaim the IC title, the match was never able to kick into another gear.
The story of the match was that Rollins lost control of his emotions, which Ambrose was able to capitalize into winning the match. While the story made sense, there was an alarming lack of emotion and chemistry in the match between the two. This was surprising given their prior work together. The lack of suspense in this match was exacerbated by following a classic between Bryan and Styles, but this feud began to feel forced in the weeks following Ambrose’s turn on Rollins.
5 – Despite lackluster booking since April, the crowd remained heavily invested in Asuka–and were genuinely thrilled when she won the SmackDown women’s title in the triple threat tables, ladders, and chairs match over Becky Lynch and Charlotte Flair.
Ronda Rousey, who continued her undefeated streak earlier in the night by making Nia Jax tap out, played a factor in the decision. While Lynch and Flair were battling atop a ladder, Rousey entered the ring and pushed the ladder over. Unfortunately, this was the single weakest-looking spot in the match as Flair and Lynch only bounced off the ropes, but the spot led to an opening for Asuka to win the title.
With Bryan-Styles finishing a close second, this was the most compelling match of the night.
The match displayed intensity and enough carnage to satisfy a crowd that had grown restless during a four-hour show. The action moved at a pace where you couldn’t look away. Lynch had a must-see spot off a ladder that looked like it broke Flair in half, while Flair knocked a ringside barrier off its hinges when she tackled Asuka into it, and later flipped onto Lynch and drove her through a table. All three competitors showed that there was nothing more important than winning the title and becoming the absolute best.
The finish effectively sets up a triple threat match at WrestleMania between Rousey, Flair, and Lynch. In order for that to happen, Lynch and Flair will need to both exit the Royal Rumble claiming to be the number one contender.
Justin Barrasso can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.