Tables, Ladders and Chairs Match
Dean Ambrose vs. Bray Wyatt
I can't help but feeling that Dean Ambrose and Bray Wyatt's Tables, Ladders and Chairs match was a wasted opportunity for both men. This should have been the match where both men announced their arrival onto the main event scene with an awe-inspiring TLC match that would have people talking way into new year. Instead, what was produced was an overly long bout, that lacked any real drama or storytelling.
That isn't to say that this was a bad match, not by any stretch of the imagination. Both Ambrose and Wyatt formed some decent spots, that used the TLC gimmickry well with all weapons being used a number of times. Ambrose hitting multiple elbow drops off ladders of increasing sizes was impressive, but I would have much preferred seeing a bit more variety thrown into the mix here. The brawling style of the two suited the match well and this was highlighted early on, with the pair going into the crowd and Ambrose jumping off of the Kick Off show table, I would've like this brawl to have gone on for a little longer, as it was when the pair seemed to be at their strongest.
Whilst a lot of the spots (Wyatt's senton onto a ladder etc.) were recycled from previous match ups, the one spot that stood out here, for me, saw Wyatt place a kendo stick under the cover of the turnbuckle and send Ambrose directly into the stick, with the commentary team commenting that it seemed to have connected with Ambrose's eye. This would be the matches biggest missed opportunity, as as quickly as the injury developed it was forgotten about and never mentioned again. This could've given the match an interesting and unique story to play with, but instead it was left as another random spot with no real explanation to why the Kendo Stick was legal in the first place in a TLC match.
The finish, oh, the finish. A TV monitor from under the ring, that as far as I'm aware has never been seen before, exploded in Ambrose's face, because Ambrose is so crazy he refused to simply remove the wires from the monitor before attempting to twat Wyatt in the head with it. It was wrestling's answer to Dues ex machine, as Wyatt picked up the pinfall victory following a Sister Abigail, and boy was it silly. And I'm not talking good silly, like a slinky or TV's Bodger and Badger. Now, I can completely understand the reasoning for wanting to both Wyatt and Ambrose looking strong, I'd imagine both are pencilled in for major matches at WrestleMania in a few months, but I'm not sure this finish did either, Ambrose looked a bit dense, whilst Wyatt won because Ambrose's stupidity.
Seth Rollins vs. John Cena
This was your classic "against the odds" story, with John Cena playing the part of the dashing hero, against the remnants of the villainous Authority. It was a tale we've seen time and time again with Cena in a more than familiar role, however it still managed to hold my attention throughout the mostly enjoyable contest, perhaps down to the sound use of the tables match stipulation. Joey Mercury and Jamie Noble continue to prove their worth as on screen characters, looking good in their interactions with Cena throughout the bout and contributing to the story nicely.
It was important that Seth Rollins be allowed to look, at least half way competent within this narrative, to continue to allow the Money in the Bank holder to move towards his title victory. Luckily, for Rollins, and the audience, this did occur at a number of points throughout the contest, where it seemed Rollins could be about to seal the victory on his own. Rollins looked at his best in an exhilarating sequence that saw Rollins flip out of an Attitude Adjustment attempt, narrowly avoiding a table, before leaping over the table an connecting with an Enziguiri. More of this type of action and the match would have been even better.
Whilst the story was strong, the match also provided it's fair share of big spots, that were well placed and allowed the match to peak at the right times. Noble taking a suplex on a barricade, Rollins taking a Super Attitude Adjustment through a table and Rollins' suicide dive onto Cena whilst Cena was on the floor outside, were all enough pique the interest of the audience, whilst never threatening to look particularly innovative, however with the story driven nature of the tangle this wasn't much of a requirement.
Roman Reigns making his return in the closing stages to save Cena from an interfering Big Show was a good way to bring back Reigns, who looked great as he dismantled Show and allowed Cena to pick up the victory sending Rollins crashing through a table with another AA. Less exceptional was the strange spot that saw both Rollins and Cena crash through a table at the same time, leading to the match to be restarted, as this added very little to the match itself. It will be interesting to see if Rollins attempts to bring this up on Raw, but I can't see the benefit, to be honest, with Cena now nailed on to face Brock Lesnar at the Royal Rumble.
Intercontinental Championship Ladder Match
Dolph Ziggler vs. Luke Harper (C)
The strongest match of the evening came in the form of Dolph Ziggler and Luke Harper's Ladder match over the Intercontinental Championship in the opening contest. As soon as Ziggler was finally announced as from Cleveland, Ohio (instead of Hollywood, Florida) his real hometown and the host city for the Pay-Per-View, the crowd was firmly behind their hometown hero, giving the match an extra edge and making it a much more enjoyable watch than it may have been otherwise.
This is down to how the match was structured, with Harper dominating for the majority of the bout, cutting Ziggler's comeback attempts short at almost every turn. This not only created a good story, but also suited each man down to the ground, with Harper allowed to show off a power, size, and even agility, hitting a love enziguiri that connected with a ladder and sent Ziggler off the top rope to the floor, whilst Ziggler was allowed to play the plucky underdog, a role that he seems to have really grown into as of late. Even Ziggler's habit of rushing sequences didn't rear it's head, as the former World Heavyweight Champion took his time and allowed the match to breath correctly.
Similar to Cena and Rollins' table match, the spots in this one weren't particularly innovative, but there was plenty of them and each one felt like it had a purpose and furthered the story of the bout. Both men took a number of big bumps during the match, with Ziggler taking a powerbomb onto a ladder set up in the corner and a catapult in the ropes using a ladder (that busted Ziggler open), whilst Harper was sent crashing onto a Ladder bridging the announce table and the ring apron.
Ziggler picked up the win with Shelton Benjamin-esque use of the ladder, before connecting with a Superkick to keep Harper down and scaling the final few rungs to retrieve the belt and become a four-time Intercontinental Champion. With the match being in Ziggler's hometown, this definitely seemed like the right end to the match, with the crowd reaction cementing this, for me. Hopefully, Ziggler gets more than a few months with the belt, as his matches over the belt over the last six months or so have helped to elevate the belt and make it seem like a prize that is worth winning. A big singles match at WrestleMania would surely complete the restoration of the title.
Big Show vs. Erick Rowan
Two big guys twatting each other with big bits of metal. What's not to like? Honestly, when this match got announced I was looking forward to the next time I accidentally stand on a plug slightly more. Whilst this wasn't what I would describe as a "bad" match, it was certainly dull. The crowd gave about as many shits as I did, with one mild "Big Show Sucks" chant the only sound that could be heard from them for entire match.
The only notable moments of the match saw Rowan bodyslam Show onto the steps (or stairs, because it rhymes with chairs) and Show spearing Rowan through a deadly WALL OF STEPS! Show winning by slightly leaning on the steps whilst placing them across Rowan (despite having hit Rowan with a Chokeslam on the steps and a WMD) looked ridiculous as the steps were across Rowan's chest and not shoulders, surely a normal pin would have been much more effective? Expect Big Show to get squashed by Roman Reigns in the coming months, whilst personally I'd seen Rowan back to NXT until after WrestleMania to polish up his skills as a singles wrestler.
Kane vs. Ryback
Two big guys twatting each other with smaller pieces of metal. Played out in front of dead crowd for everything but the finish, this match was marginally better than the Big Show and Erick Rowan clash, boasting a handful of decent spots, like a DDT from Kane on a chair and Ryback hitting a Spinebuster onto two chairs in a seated position. If I had any real reason to care about either competitor, this could have actually been a decent PPV match.
The pair seemed to have something, almost, resembling chemistry and did put together a number of decent sequences, including the finish, that saw Ryback escape a Tombstone Piledriver attempt to deliver a Meathook Clothesline and Shellshocked to pick up the pinfall victory, which was actually done very well. Ryback picking up a clean victory was what the character needed going forward, although I can't quite see where Ryback fits into the picture on the Road to WrestleMania.
Diva's Championship Match
AJ Lee vs. Nikki Bella (C)
When one of your positives for a match is "surprisingly few botches" then it says a lot about how good the match actually was. There was a few decent moves thrown into this one, like AJ's Tornado DDT and Nikki's use of the ringpost to bend AJ almost in two, but there was no substance to the action and a distinct lack of selling throughout, in particular AJ after the aforementioned ring post spot. It's difficult not to compare this match to Charlotte and Sasha Bank's match from NXT Takeover: REvolution and wonder what exactly goes wrong between developmental and the main roster.
Tag Team Championship Match
The Usos vs. The Miz & Damien Mizdow (C)
This tag bout did very little for me at all and I think that may be because I'm losing patience with the Mizdow gimmick. Seemingly, I'm not alone as the act got a lot less of a crowd reaction here as it did at last months Survivor Series. The one spot that did stand out was Mizdown mimicking Miz whilst the Usos had Miz in a delayed vertical suplex. Jimmy Usos debuted a new submission hold, but with zero build towards it during the match it felt pretty inconsequential. The bout didn't flow particularly well and a disqualification ending didn't help either, these four guys could have done a ot better than this.
United States Championship Match
Rusev (C) vs. Jack Swagger
Essentially, this was a squash match to tie up the loose end of Rusev and Swagger's Summer feud, where Swagger refused to tap out to the Accolade at SummerSlam. Unfortunately, this match didn't come close to their SummerSlam bout, but I'm not sure it was ever supposed to be. The crowd were too busy watching something else for most of the match, but did at least get behind Swagger for a few minutes during the match. Rusev obviously needed something to tide him over to the Royal Rumble and keeping the title present on PPV was a good move. There isn't much more to say!
The three big matches on the PPV were, at least, good matches, with Cena vs. Rollins and Ziggler vs. Harper both delivering on what I had expected from them. Ambrose and Wyatt didn't put on the show stealing match that they should have done, but it was still a decent match when viewed in isolation. Where this PPV falls apart is a piss poor undercard, that struggled to hold my interest for any real amount of time. WWE needs to get this sorted in the next few months, as with WrestleMania just over three months away there isn't much time to get all the major players in the right places.