WWE TLC: Bray Wyatt vs. Randy Orton

Well, we’ve made it to the end of 2020. Against all odds – and perhaps against all good scientific sense – WWE has kept the juggernaut running throughout one of the toughest years in recent human history. The final pay-per-view of this chaotic year was TLC, emanating from the newly-minted second home of the Thunderdome – the Tropicana Field baseball arena.

The card was headlined by a pair of blockbuster TLC matches, promising plunder and twisted metal aplenty, not to mention yet another entirely unique spectacle involving Bray Wyatt.

Here’s what we predicted would happen. Now, let’s talk about how things played out on the night…

Kick-Off: Big E, Daniel Bryan, Chad Gable and Otis defeated Sami Zayn, King Corbin, Cesaro and Shinsuke Nakamura via Big Ending on Zayn

WWE TLC: 8-Man Tag

WWE has possibly the greatest wrestling roster of all time. That was abundantly clear during this throwaway pre-show match, which featured more mouth-watering combinations of wrestlers than you can shake a stick at. We saw Chad Gable vs. Cesaro. Daniel Bryan vs. Cesaro. Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Daniel Bryan. Crazy stuff. Bizarrely, King Corbin’s new disciples were not involved in the match. WWE loves nonsensical multi-man booking. They also played some strange “leaked” audio before the match of Sami Zayn yelling at a backstage official, in a half-baked nod to the recent Tom Cruise news story.

The contest itself was unremarkable. It devolved into the inevitable high spot montage in the middle, from which Zayn hid by the announce table. He then tagged in, seeking an opportunity, but met with a Big Ending from his rival Big E that brought his night to an end. E will now go on to challenge Zayn for his Intercontinental Championship on the Christmas Day episode of SmackDown. If WWE has any sense, he’ll win and continue his march towards the main event scene.

In the meantime, can we find something for the rest of these guys to do? They’re too good to sit on the bench.

TLC Match: WWE Champion Drew McIntyre defeated AJ Styles (and The Miz)

WWE TLC: AJ Styles vs. Drew McIntyre

The champion’s power was the story early on, but AJ Styles quickly zeroed in on his left leg, hitting it with a chair as McIntyre made the first attempt to climb a ladder. Styles focused on the bad wheel, deploying a ladder for a painful-looking spin on the Calf Crusher and then repeating the move with a steel chair. McIntyre fought back into the action and caught Styles with a suplex on to a ladder.

The champion looked to have the match won when he dumped Styles over the top rope and through a table, only for The Miz and John Morrison to make an appearance. Miz caught McIntyre with a powerbomb through a table and cashed in his Money in the Bank briefcase, making the match a triple threat. He began to climb the ladder very slowly, only for Styles’ bodyguard Omos to get involved and chuck Miz through a ringside table. Morrison tried to incapacitate Omos, but a steel chair came out worst from its collision with the big man’s back. He stalked Morrison up the ramp and out of the arena.

McIntyre and Styles were first to resurface, climbing both sides of a ladder in the middle of the ring. Miz set up a ladder next to them and scaled it at lightning speed, only for McIntyre to stop him from getting near the title. The three men traded control at the top of various ladders until McIntyre was able to push over a ladder, sending Miz to the mat and Styles on a nasty spill to the floor. A Claymore ensured Miz stayed down, letting the champion recapture his title.

This was a slow-paced, but enjoyable TLC match to open the show, given a fun added a wrinkle by the involvement of Miz. Keeping the title on McIntyre with a likely Brock Lesnar rematch planned for WrestleMania makes a lot of sense, but it’s a shame to see Miz’s cash-in taken off the table. Given the decision to give the gimmick to Otis and then shift it to Miz without much of a clear plan for the way forward, it feels a lot like WWE has lost patience with the idea of Money in the Bank. Sadly, it’s a gimmick too popular for them to simply scrap it. Instead, they seem content to bungle it desperately.

SmackDown Women’s Champion Sasha Banks defeated Carmella via Bank Statement

WWE TLC: Carmella vs. Sasha Banks

Carmella played mind games early but found herself chucked through the ropes by the champion. Thankfully for Carmella, she was caught by her sommelier – now called Reginald, apparently – who assisted her in hitting a hurricanrana on The Boss. Banks fought back, paying homage to Eddie Guerrero with the Three Amigos and a Frog Splash, but couldn’t put ‘Mella away. The champion attempted a tilt-a-whirl, but Carmella countered with a high-angle X-factor, which spiked Banks right on her forehead.

This only got a two-count and both women traded pinning combinations before Carmella was able to lock in Code of Silence, followed by a more intense variant with an added double chicken-wing. Banks was able to roll out of the move and apply the Bank Statement, but Reginald again got involved and pulled his employer out of harm’s way. The champion hit Reginald with a Meteora from the apron, but this allowed Carmella to land a pair of superkicks and come within a whisker of victory. The Untouchable One attempted another X-factor, but Banks rolled through into the Bank Statement and earned the submission victory.

If anyone had any doubt regarding Carmella’s spot in the main event picture, this match should put an end to their whining. The former Princess of Staten Island was excellent against Banks and the champion certainly helped her out by bumping as only she can, making every move look like a million quid. The involvement of Carmella’s new buddy was kept to just the right level and there were several moments when it looked as if the challenger might actually prevail. This feud could well continue, and there’s plenty of mileage in it if they do go that way.

Hurt Business (Cedric Alexander & Shelton Benjamin) defeated New Day via Lumbar Check to become NEW RAW TAG TEAM CHAMPIONS

WWE TLC: Hurt Business

New Day wasted no time in taking it to Cedric Alexander, landing a handful of high-impact moves for some early near-falls. Shelton Benjamin forced a way back into it for Hurt Business as the match kept up a frenetic pace packed with huge moves. Benjamin threw Xavier Woods hard into the bottom turnbuckle and this allowed the heels to isolate Woods, who clutched his neck in pain. Woods ultimately blocked a Neuraliser attempt and made the hot tag.

Kingston’s comeback was blocked by Benjamin, who caught the champion midway through a Boom Drop. A Houdini-esque Kingston evaded serious damage, right up until Alexander struck him with a big knee strike and a brainbuster. Woods broke up the pin, only to fall victim to a Neutraliser from Alexander and Paydirt from Benjamin. A Butterfly Superplex left Benjamin ready to secure the win, only for Alexander to blind tag himself in and flatten Kingston with the Lumbar Check to win the titles.

New Day always delivers when the lights shine brightest and this was no different. All four men gave it everything in this engaging sprint of a contest, which kept things short and sweet while showing the best of every competitor. The time is right for the Hurt Business to win the tag belts and it will be interesting to see just how dominant the stable can become in 2021. Particularly for the often underused Alexander, this is a great opportunity to shine. Benjamin did not look best pleased when Alexander tagged himself in, so there may be another story to explore there in the coming months.

Asuka and Charlotte Flair defeated Shayna Baszler and Nia Jax via Natural Selection on Baszler to become NEW WOMEN’S TAG TEAM CHAMPIONS

WWE TLC: Charlotte Flair and Asuka vs. Nia Jax and Shayna Baszler

Everybody knew who Asuka’s surprise partner would be and it seems WWE recognised that, playing Charlotte Flair’s music without much in the way of suspense. Once the bell rang, Asuka and Shayna Baszler started the action. Those two are surely due to a marquee main-event down the line. They never really got to tangle during their NXT days. Naturally, though, it was Flair who was the star of the match, tagging in after Asuka sold for the two intimidating champions. The returning Queen rattled off her signature spots before flattening both opponents with a moonsault to ringside. Flair got the Figure Eight on Baszler, but Jax intervened. Asuka took out Jax and Flair hit Natural Selection to pin Baszler.

This was about Charlotte Flair and only Charlotte Flair. With that in mind, the segment did its job even if, once again, Asuka felt like a second fiddle – despite the RAW Women’s Championship around her waist. One would be forgiven for forgetting she had the gold at all. The fact she’s now a double champion was barely even noted. This nascent Tag Team Championship reign seems destined to be brief, with Flair no doubt turning her attention to Asuka’s singles title before too long. If their history is anything to go by, they’re on the way to a classic encounter.

TLC Match: Universal Champion Roman Reigns defeated Kevin Owens

WWE TLC: Roman Reigns vs. Kevin Owens

Owens jumped Reigns to get the match started in a hurry, only for Jey Uso to quickly make his presence felt and give his cousin a numbers advantage. Owens, though, attempted to nullify Uso by crushing his ankle with a steel chair. The carnage allowed Reigns in and he battered Owens with chairs and the steel steps. When Reigns attempted to climb for the belt, Owens used a chair of his own to end the ascent and followed it up with a fisherman’s suplex through the steel.

The challenger then began to reach for the belt, but Uso returned and again halted Owens’s momentum. He and Reigns set up tables in the ring, but Owens fought back with a Stunner and blasted Uso through the announce table with a pop-up powerbomb before burying him under equipment. Reigns and Owens scuffled atop a ladder, with Reigns emerging on top after powerbombing his opponent on to a ladder and subsequently blasting him through a table at ringside. When Owens returned to halt Reigns’ climb, the champion laughed at him and delivered a Spear through yet another table.

Owens still showed signs of life and Reigns tried for another Spear through the barricade. KO side-stepped, though, and Reigns crashed and burned. Owens’s attempts to climb were short-lived and, when both men were back on firm ground, the champ countered a pop-up powerbomb into a Superman Punch, only to find himself the victim of another powerbomb through a table. The challenger got his hand on the belt, but Uso stopped him for long enough that Reigns recovered and hit a low blow through the rungs of the ladder. He locked in a guillotine atop the ladder until Owens crumpled to the mat, allowing the champion to regain his gold.

This was, as expected, a violent opus from two men at the top of their games on both a physical level and a character one. Owens was perfect as the seemingly indefatigable babyface with personal vendetta running hot in his veins, while Reigns was as violent as he was dastardly. He’s not a cowardly heel, but nor is he afraid of finding an advantage through unscrupulous means. Everyone was pretty sure Reigns was winning, but the fact that some of the false finishes for Owens were entirely believable spoke volumes about how well the rivalry has been built. Next year will inevitably bring new foes for Reigns, but it would be a shame if KO doesn’t get another attempt at dethroning the Tribal Chief.

Firefly Inferno Match: Randy Orton defeated The Fiend by setting him on fire

WWE TLC: Bray Wyatt vs. Randy Orton

The ring announcer revealed before the match began that the only way to win was to set your opponent on fire. Unlike other Inferno Matches, there was no ring of fire around the squared circle. The reason for this became clear after a few minutes when Wyatt hit Sister Abigail and then summoned what one could charitably describe as absolutely bloody loads of fire, all around the Thunderdome. The Fiend grabbed a leather strap to beat Orton with and then set the end of the strap on fire, but couldn’t land a final blow on his opponent.

The Fiend tried to murder Orton with a pickaxe – which was probably only the 10th maddest thing to happen during the match – and then retrieved Bray Wyatt’s rocking chair from ringside. He poured petrol all over the furniture, as well as a line of fuel leading to it. He sat Orton in the chair and ignited the line of gasoline, but the Legend Killer managed to avoid being barbecued. Orton fought back with a steel chain and axe handle, but the same weapon almost became his undoing when Fiend again lit it on fire. Orton hit a draping DDT on the floor and then, after countering a Mandible Claw attempt, forced Wyatt into the inferno at ringside.

Flames engulfed The Fiend, but this didn’t stop him sliding back into the ring in an attempt to fight back. Orton hit an RKO, which seemed to snuff out the fire. The Legend Killer kicked at the Fiend to check if he was still fighting and then flashed a sadistic grin. He poured gasoline on to the Fiend’s body and then, despite loud protestations from the commentary team, he set Wyatt’s body alight. Flames soared as the Fiend’s head appeared to melt like the Nazis at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark. It was a hell of a way for the show to go off the air.

Was this goofy? Yes. Was this absurd? Yes. Was the match consistently brilliant? No. However, this was a truly remarkable and boundary-pushing piece of work from WWE, taking full advantage of the unique conditions in which the company finds itself. If the “Eye for an Eye” match could be accused of not quite pushing the envelope enough, this really went as far as it possibly could have done – and perhaps beyond that. The Fiend is a slasher villain in just about every way, and this is the next logical step in that portrayal.

Verdict

It’s the final moments of TLC that will grab the majority of the headlines, for obvious reasons, but the show was a very strong one from top to bottom. The weapons-heavy bouts delivered plenty of brutalities and the Universal Championship match, in particular, was another masterful bit of storytelling from the blue brand. The ending will be divisive, and that’s fair, but TLC was essentially 2020 as a wrestling year in a nutshell – strange, baffling, occasionally brilliant and you couldn’t quite believe it was still going this strong.

All images courtesy of WWE.com