WWE’s TLC pay per view proved once again that in-ring action is the least of its worries.
The matches were excellent, opening with a WWE Championship match that saw Drew McIntyre retain. The show had many highlights, some of which were just backstage segments with Sami Zayn. Sasha Banks brought out the best of Carmella in their match for the SmackDown Women’s Championship and Charlotte Flair also returned, winning the Women’s Tag Titles with Asuka. Roman Reigns and Kevin Owens put on a fantastic Tables, Ladders and Chairs match, which saw Reigns continue his run as Universal Champion. New Raw Tag Team Champions were also crowned, as Cedric Alexander and Shelton Benjamin defeated The New Day’s Kofi Kingston and Xavier Woods. The win marks Benjamin’s first run with the tag title since 2003, when he was one-half of The World’s Greatest Tag Team with Charlie Haas.
But this was far from a perfect night. TLC’s issues highlight an enormous disconnect with the WWE fan base, a group that continues to diminish in size on a yearly basis.
Instead of a back-and-forth wrestling match to close out the pay per view, Randy Orton and “The Fiend” Bray Wyatt met in an outlandish “Firefly Inferno” match where the objective was to set your opponent on fire. For anyone wondering, this did not harken back to memories of Ricky Steamboat versus Randy Savage.
Wyatt was ultimately lit on fire, yet the match continued without explanation. Orton then dumped gasoline all over Wyatt, and the show came to its end as Orton celebrated while Wyatt was fully engulfed in flames. If anyone in WWE ever looks for a specific example of Vince McMahon’s inability to reach his audience, look no further than this match.
Here are the results from an otherwise solid show:
-- Big E, Daniel Bryan, Chad Gable, and Otis defeated Sami Zayn, Cesaro, Shinsuke Nakamura and King Corbin on the preshow
-- WWE Champion Drew McIntyre defeated AJ Styles and The Miz in a triple-threat Tables, Ladders and Chairs match
-- SmackDown Women’s Champion Sasha Banks defeated Carmella by submission
-- The Hurt Business’ Cedric Alexander and Shelton Benjamin defeated The New Day’s Kofi Kingston and Xavier Woods to become the new Raw Tag Team Champions
-- Charlotte Flair and Asuka defeated Nia Jax and Shayna Baszler to become the new Women’s Tag Team Champions
-- Universal Champion Roman Reigns defeated Kevin Owens in a Tables, Ladders and Chairs match
-- Randy Orton defeated The Fiend in a Firefly Inferno match
With ratings for WWE’s flagship Monday Night Raw show struggling, here is a look, based on what we saw at TLC, on how to infuse some energy into the product:
Roman Reigns should not—I repeat: should not—face Bill Goldberg at WrestleMania
Roman Reigns is operating on a level few will ever reach.
The new edge to his character was clearly visible at TLC, where Reigns bludgeoned Kevin Owens in a Tables, Ladders and Chairs match to retain the Universal Championship.
Reigns's story arc is built around respect, namely that he is not getting enough from his peers. It has been a fantastic stretch of storytelling, and it has benefited from the inclusion of Jey Uso and Paul Heyman. Owens also did a fantastic job, making people believe that he could defeat Reigns. This isn’t Owens’s time to be champ, but hopefully, WWE continues to afford Owens opportunities moving forward where he can continue to prove he belongs in the main event scene.
Moving forward, Reigns would also do well working with a true babyface. Daniel Bryan immediately comes to mind, as does Drew McIntyre, who he just wrestled at last month’s Survivor Series. There are a number of legitimate candidates for Reigns to face off against at WrestleMania, but it should not be Bill Goldberg. How would that encounter, which would certainly not be a wrestling classic, further elevate Reigns?
Reigns needs to find that rival that brings the absolute best out of him. An interesting choice would be someone that has even more star power than he does, which is rare among those that can still wrestle. But there is someone out there in that role–it is not Goldberg, but rather CM Punk.
WWE lacks serious star power, but there is a way to fix that
Depth is never an issue for WWE. Their roster is overflowing with top-tier talent, so much so that Daniel Bryan, Sami Zayn, Big E, Cesaro and Shinsuke Nakamura were all part of the TLC preshow. While WWE has an abundance of talent, by design, they are lacking massive stars.
Despite a constant internal push to bring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson back into the WWE every spring for WrestleMania, “The People’s Champ” is off electrifying Hollywood. Steve Austin occasionally makes an on-screen appearance, but he hasn’t wrestled a match since WrestleMania XIX in 2003. Fortunately for WWE, two major stars are available to help breathe life into Raw and the product as a whole.
Edge is nearing his return from injury. He remains a presence behind the scenes, and his return will immediately bring extra attention to Raw. There is the inevitable rematch with Randy Orton, a pursuit of the WWE Championship, and a chance to work with so many new opponents.
And if Vince McMahon wants to finally create a genuine buzz and draw strong ratings on Raw, which are distant memories for that show, he needs to bring back CM Punk.
A return from Punk will require two necessities: a boatload of money and a compelling story. Fortunately for McMahon, he has something to offer that may still interest Punk: a spot in the main event at WrestleMania.
Edge will be back, though a return from Punk still seems unlikely. But he would certainly help solve WWE’s problems. The next step, of course, would be to use those stars to help build new ones, which is the complete opposite of what we saw when Bill Goldberg steamrolled his way through Bray Wyatt last winter.
Edge and Punk would instantly elevate everyone around them on Raw, and they are both selfless talents that would put over newer stars.
AJ Styles needs a posse
Drew McIntyre defeated AJ Styles and The Miz in a Tables, Ladders and Chairs match at TLC, which turned into a triple threat after Miz cashed in his Money in the Bank title contract.
The match was fantastic, and there was solid psychology as Styles instantly attacked McIntyre’s left knee in an attempt to slow down the champ. There were also some incredible bumps, especially from Styles, who at one point was press-slammed out of the ring by McIntyre and through a ringside table.
McIntyre put forth an incredible year for WWE in 2020, winning the Royal Rumble match in January and ending the year with an outstanding Tables, Ladders and Chairs match. He has done a wonderful job of restoring honor to a WWE title that was rarely defended by Brock Lesnar, and this would have been a great match to close out the show. Instead, we saw something entirely different with Orton-Wyatt.
Styles should continue his program with McIntyre, and an interesting part of the story would be if Styles added more help beside him in addition to Omos.
The question bears asking–why doesn’t Styles have a faction?
WWE needs a new idea that can connect with people. Why not fully commit to Styles having his own group? Styles has already shown in New Japan’s Bullet Club and a stretch in WWE with The Club that he thrives in that role, and that would add some energy to a three-hour show every Monday that is in constant need of an adrenaline boost.
Longtime wrestling veteran MVP has played an integral role in establishing The Hurt Business into a believable, entertaining, and realistic part of Raw. That was again on display at TLC when Cedric Alexander and Shelton Benjamin won the tag titles from Kofi Kingston and Xavier Woods. It was a really important touch that Alexander pinned Kingston, a former WWE Champion, for the win, as Alexander is a star that WWE should be building around as a cornerstone.
Why not place Styles in a similar role? Why not take a piece of the past that is known to work? Styles has proven he can lead a faction, and that is another way to elevate less established talent.
Asuka-Charlotte Flair & Sasha Banks-Bianca Belair are two programs that should build to WrestleMania
Raw gets a boost with the return of Charlotte Flair, who was the surprise partner of Asuka at TLC.
Flair and Asuka defeated Shayna Baszler and Nia Jax to become the new Women’s Tag Team Champions, which is an important development for a few different reasons. This allows Flair and Asuka to make appearances across all brands, which includes SmackDown and NXT. Obviously, the temptation will be to overuse Flair, which has already happened before, but hopefully, WWE finds the self-control necessary to spread out her appearances so they remain special.
Flair and Asuka can also build to a WrestleMania rematch. Asuka had her undefeated streak broken by Flair at WrestleMania 34, and Flair again dethroning her could be a great story for next April.
Sasha Banks also won her match at TLC, defeating Carmella. Banks is putting the finishing touches on the most incredible year of her career, which is even more remarkable given everything she has already accomplished. Building toward a Banks-Bianca Belair showdown at WrestleMania would lead to some compelling segments on SmackDown, as well as a must-see match at the pay per view.
WWE needs more stories that make people want to watch. Banks has proven that she is a must-see, and putting Belair in that program helps create a new star. Another option is to pivot and have Belair challenge Asuka, and then put on a match with massive star power where Flair is pitted against Banks.
No one should be lit on fire during a WWE pay per view
Randy Orton and Bray Wyatt met in a “Firefly Inferno” match, which ended when Wyatt caught on fire.
As if that finish wasn’t bad enough, Orton then dumped gasoline onto Wyatt. When Orton went outside the ring to grab a match, Wyatt was replaced with a dummy dressed in The Fiend’s attire. Orton then lit the dummy on fire as the show went off the air.
This was the lowlight of WWE programming in 2020.
Where to begin? WWE proudly champions itself as family entertainment, which this certainly was not. The company’s mantra—and we’ve all heard it before—is to put smiles on people’s faces. Maybe it’s just me, but watching a match literally end in flames is not the reason I choose to smile while watching pro wrestling.
Why not just have Orton and Wyatt wrestle? Both are extremely talented, and that could have been an entertaining match. Or maybe it would have missed the mark. It’s impossible to say, but it would have been great to see two of WWE’s biggest stars wrestle in an attempt to end their feud. Instead, we were treated to something that has no place on a WWE show.
There is such a proliferation of talent in WWE that the company should be constantly churning out incredible content. But the company’s most underlying issue—an inability to connect with its vast audience—was front and center at TLC. A great night of wrestling was overshadowed by a ridiculous finish in the main event.
This finish had go-away heat, which is a discredit to the stars that worked so hard to make the rest of the pay per view so enjoyable.