TLC Review, 2011: Bryan Cashes in and Punk Breaks Out

Punk celebrates atop of the ladder which he climbed to victory

Before TLC, there were backstage worries that the buyrate for TLC would be low, and I hope those worries don’t turn out to be well-founded, because the TLC PPV was another excellent PPV offering from the 2011-12 ‘season’ and deserves to be considered a success, featuring as it did, lots of good matches, two underdog crowd-favourites reaching new championship heights, and the best TLC match in years which saw the ultimate cult of wrestling personality stay atop the mountain.

Match 1) Zack Ryder def. Dolph Ziggler to Become the WWE United States Champion
This match, in terms of in ring technicality, was good, but in terms of sheer storytelling, it was … dare I say it … ‘perfection’. For months, Ryder and Ziggler have been feuding in ring and out, on TV and off, and have become perfect counterparts, with Ziggler as the best heel on TV against the underdog with the most meteoric rise in recent wrestling history. Ziggler was doing anything to put down this ‘kid’, leaning on the ropes for leverage, pulling tights, all the while, trying to embarrass Ryder by showing off. After a while though, his manager Vickie Guerrero became too intrusive in the match, saving Ziggler from a pinfall by placing his foot on the rope for him. This saw her ejected from ringside – a big indicator that Ryder was going to win, accented nicely with her screaming back to Dolph in warning. Ziggler continued to dominate offense, but Ryder continued to stay in the match, and eventually gained momentum on the champion. As Ryder reached Ziggler’s l;evel in the match, the pace quickened as the two wrestlers who by now know each other extremely well traded attempts at roll-ups and finisher attempts before Ziggler finally ran towards his fate. Indeed, Ziggler whipped Ryder to the corner, and as soon as this happened, his fate was sealed. I really did know what was coming: he ran in to Ryder’s knees, almost comically stumbled backwards in to the perfect position for the Rough Ryder, and got git with a Rough Ryder for the loss. Now i’ve said a few times that milestones in the match pointed to Ziggler’s loss and Ryder’s victory, and this might be seen as me calling it predictable. That is no bad thing – if something is the right result, and wanted by the people (on the whole), it will be enjoyed whether predictable or not. This was the perfect performance of not only good overcoming evil (so to speak), but of a downtrodden underdog completing a journey from obscurity to championship gold. As for Ziggler, that man is (almost) perfection (whether his song says it or not). He is destined not only for the main event, but for a WWE Championship in the future. Unfortunately, to take that step up, you have to drop the weight of the midcard – go from a big fish in a small pond to a big fish in a big pond. You need to lose to progress, but this doesn’t affect Ziggler in any bad way; it just recognises Zack Ryder, officially, as a success.

Match 2) AirBoom (Kofi Kingston & Evan Bourne) def. Epico & Primo to Retain the WWE Tag Team Championships
I was a big fan of this match being added because, due to Evan Bourn’e suspension, the re-flourishing tag team division had taken a knock in quality (perhaps condemning WWE’s decision to not have AirBoom drop the titles), and so it was important to re-establish the two as a great team and great champions. As for Epico and Primo, they have come from nowhere to become another really formidable and accomplished tag team. I’ve always wanted to see Primo back on WWETV because he categorically deserves it, but I was also massively impressed with Epico, who performed a number of unbroken, really impressive, beautiful maneuvers, including a double back-suplex followed by a German suplex. The tag champs, while away, must have been working together as they innovated some more double teams, including an amazing move where Kofi swung Evan in to his opponent, who then hit the hurricanrana on said opponent. These two teams really showcased the spectacular skills which could save the tag division, and the end of the match was a fantastic, fast-moving flourish as Kofi got a hot tag and became a hous of fire, hitting a sweet spingboard crossbody from the turnbuckle to Primo. While Bourne took out Epico on the outside, Primo was surprised by Kofi, who in a nice variation of his finishing spot, pushed Primo in to the ropes and hit him with the Trouble in Paradise for the retention. Its a shame Primo & Epico had to lose, but they did so in style, and hopefully they wont be precluded from the tag team picture going forward, which is starting to look more and more attractive.

Note from RTV: I’ve just seen the time. I wont be around the computer tomorrow, so expect some quicker reports so this is published in any sort of timely fashion at all.

Match 3) Randy Orton def. Wade Barrett in a Tables Match
I did enjoy this match, but perhaps given some of the other matches, this was pale a little in comparison. There was some very impressive storytelling surrounding the tables, which is right given the stipulation of the match. I liked the idea of the superplex from the stairs to the table on the floor spot, even if we didn’t see it. I liked even more Barrett’s intelligent approach to the match, as he managed to avoid Orton’s offense for a long time around the tables, the best time being at the stage area, where Orton looked ready to pounce with Barrett near a table, which Barrett responded to by pushing the table over and therefore neutralising it. A really nice embracement of the table stipulation. The end of the match was also pretty good, with Barrett placing Orton on the table, perfectly placed for a dive through it on top of Orton, but with Orton playing possum, Barrett instead dived in to an RKO through the table, which looked cool, even if Barrett’s knee did awkwardly go through the tabl before Orton even touched him. The only problem with it is the relative obviousness of Barrett’s fate, which came, unlike Ryder, not at the end of a mammoth journey. Also, I don’t think I agree with Orton winning. It’s always difficult when a guy like Barrett is getting a ‘wins all the time’ push, but its even worse for Barrett given that the ‘Barrett Barrage’ is the whole basis for his prominence. As the announcers debated afterwards whether the Barrett Barrage had been stopped or merely slowed, I did wonder how Barrett would come back from this. Though that’s not to say I think he’s a hopeless case; he just maybe should have won on Sunday.

Match 4) Beth Phoenix def. Kelly Kelly To Retain the WWE Divas Championship
This was the second of three (yeah, seriously) impromptu matches of the night, and it was surprisingly good. This story was different to most divas matches of late, and infinitely better as Beth Phoenix absolutely obliterated Kelly for the most part, and despite a few moments where Kelly botched it up, this was a very pleasing match. Indeed, Kelly did a great job being beaten up, and seeming genuinely terrified and in pain. Indeed, Kelly is much better at being beaten up, than beating people up. Her moves look like she’s just a passanger, especially when compared to the power behind Beth’s offense, which included a Spinebuster! Also, this match went far longer than most divas matches, allowing it the kind of drama that the division seriously needs. Feeling #PinUpStrong have started to fall flat of late, I worried they’d give the title back to Kelly as a divas reboot, but instead, though they teased that with a roll-through from the Glam Slam, Phoenix fought against it and beat Kelly with a nice version of an Electric Chair Drop. A well earned victory in a competitive match from a dominant diva. THIS IS WHAT WE WANT!

Match 5) Triple H def. Kevin Nash in a Sledgehammer Ladder Match
This match was pretty much mocked going in with both being derided as dinosaurs, but after this match, I had a lot of renewed respect for both. This match was absolute brutality, a real pier six brawl, if you will, as both moving better than expected, and taking big hard bumps. Indeed, their aged bodies looked even more poetic in suffering I have to say. The use of the ladder was good, especially the awesome figure four through the ladder (which is much more arresting than the arm-breaker through the ladder), but I must say, I wasn’t pleased that the ladder could be used as a weapon. When the ladder is to facilitate retrieving a title, fair enough, but when the goal is another weapon, it seems to water down the victory of reaching it. Imagine how I felt then, when a table was introduced! That had nothing to do with anything! Nash bumping from the ladder through the table was very impressive though I guess. The botched Pedigree, where Nash kinda collapsed aside, the finish was very nicely done too. With Nash begging for a friend’s forgiveness, holding up the Kliq/Wolfpac signal as Trips stood over him with the fatal sledgehammer, Triple H would not show that weakness (as befits the character of ‘The Game’), he blasted him with the sledgehammer for the win, and surely the blowoff of this blown feud, of which this match was by far the highlight.

Match 6) Sheamus def. Jack Swagger
Though this was a good match, it was my least favourite of the card, just because it didn’t seem very meaningful – probably just a way to get two bigger stars (especially Sheamus) on the show. Sheamus won in the end with a Brogue Kick, as he tends to do, but I don’t want to say more about it (partly for brevity, and partly because it didn’t move me very much). It was indeed a good match, but what comes from it? At least if Swagger could have won, via cheating, he would have something to brag about for a while, while Sheamus would have a legitimate ‘beef’ with him, allowing for a decent mini-feud going forward.

Match 7) Big Show def. Mark Henry to Win the World Heavyweight Championship
This was a short match, but a gem in many ways. It started off with the bold visual statement of Show tossing chairs in to the ring, EC-DUB style (sorta I guess), at which Henry baulked and tried to leave. Show, however, wouldn’t let his chance at his first top championship gold in nine years just walk away, and he took to beating on Henry with chairs and his faux-boxer punches. Impressively (which could have been Henry’s middle name this year), Henry recovered from this quickly and managed to turn the match around instantly with one, smart move, a chairshot to Show’s hand, the centrepiece of his most powerful offense. After this, Henry was in complete control, teasing Show and brutalising him more, and even when Show seemed to recover, he couldn’t use any of his offense on Henry, with the World’s Strongest Man brushing Show aside. But as he went for another swinging chair shot, Show reached deep down, beyond the pain to hit his WMD for the win. Just as I was enjoying the match, and the story behind it, I was furious, not only about Show winning, but about it being cut short so abruptly. In retrospect, it appears Henry is injured, making this more acceptable, especially given the next result …

Match 8) Daniel Bryan def. The Big Show After Cashing in His Money in the Bank Briefcase to Become the World Heavyweight Champion
After losing the World title, a bitter Mark Henry attacked Show from behind with a chair before DDTing him on to more chairs, at which point, the crowd started chanting ‘Daniel Bryan! Daniel Bryan!’ to which I kinda scoffed, before seconds later, his music hit! All he had to do was pin Show, and before Show was obviously cleared to compete that night (I find that’s the best way to rationalise his first cash-in being nixed in a sensible list of rules surrounding the case), it counted! After years of being arguably the best wrestler in the world, he finally fulfilled his dream – one that he sorely deserves, and his emotion, and the fans emotion, was palpable. His sticking it to Cole too was a great feel-good moment. Not only is D. Bryan being champion being very pleasing. but its also very intriguing as there’s a bit of a championship mess going forward. Not only is Henry owed a rematch, but so is Show. Not only that, but Bryan took the championship from a babyface who had a emotional longing for the title. It’ll be interesting to see what happens between them: which of them will turn heel? Will either of them? Depending on Henry’s health, I guess we can expect a triple threat match for the title at the Royal Rumble, and I just hope Bryan can hold the title for a while, hopefully through to WrestleMania, and he’s given a chance to showcase his skills even better than before!

Match 9) Cody Rhodes def. Booker T to Retain the Intercontinental Championship
I said in my preview that this match was one of the more hotly anticipated, by me at least, and by this point, I wasn’t sure if we’d even see it; but we did, and man, how well was it built! After the first match, Rhodes had beat-down Booker backstage, after which there were doubts as to whether he could compete, then later, as a defiant Booker came out to face Rhodes, he was brutally again attacked from behind by Rhodes, this time even worse as he was thrown in to the barricades by Rhodes. This just shows how great Rhodes is as a smart, cocky heel. Knowing he could essentially do what he wanted to Booker before the bell rung to both injure him and get in his head, he kept on being one step ahead of Book until they finally had the match (I guess they had Rhodes come out first to guarantee it actually happening). This also made look great, as he showed up for a match after two beatings throughout the night, and again, showed he hasn’t missed a step in that ring as the ‘You still got it’ chants rung out. His flamboyant style complemented Rhodes’ flamboyant heelism very very well, and the two, as expected, had an excellent match. Despite his (kayfabe) physical condition, Booker gave a game showing, and the two, it seemed, were consciously trying to appear for a while to be exact equivalent forces.The finish was strange but interesting as the two traded blows; Booker went for and missed his Scissor Kick before running in to a Beautiful Disaster for a good near-fall. At this point, Rhodes took time to talk to the referee, as if he had been slightly inconvenienced before hitting a second Beautiful Disaster for the win. Rhodes’ cocky demeanor here was conscious and cool, just as if Booker was being obstinate in not staying down while Rhodes didn’t seem to want to use CrossRhodes on Booker, as if he didn’t deserve it. It is this kind of storytelling which makes Rhodes so great. Hats off to Booker too, who can hang with anyone still it seems, and is giving Cody a great rub.

Match 10) CM Punk def. The Miz and Alberto Del Rio in a TLC Match to Retain the WWE Championship
As I said in the opening, this was the best TLC match i’ve seen in years. Central to this match was Punk being against the odds, but crucially, in a much more interesting way than John Cena ever is, and not only that, but he overcame them in a much more interesting way. I mentioned in the opening how I was worried about the heels ganging up, and Punk beating them both up and winning anyway, Cena style, but luckily, that’s not what happened. While the heels teased working together for a while, that soon broke down. I don’t want to go too much in to the match-details (again, for brevity and not because I didn’t enjoy it!), but Punk went through a period of wrestling where he was on top, and certainly centre-stage, seeming like a true champion. After the heels alliance broke down, Punk faced his second form of adversity as Ricardo Rodriguez, who was trying to get the belt for his employer, got in to a scrap with Punk, and though coming off second best, managed to handcuff Punk to the ladder, at which point I truly became worried for Punk’s prospects. In fact, it reminded me of when Punk was trapped in the ladder many years ago by Jeff Hardy in a losing effort, and now, being attacked by a furious Del Rio, Punk’s position seemed helpless. If this was Cena, he’s have used brute strength to tear the handcuffs away from the ladder, or even dragged it around him for the rest of the match (which would, I add, be pretty sweet for Cena), but Punk, the more cerebral superstar, just kicked the brace to free himself, before using the cuffs as a weapon himself. There then followed a period of great TLC action including all implements, most effectively, by Alberto Del Rio. In retrospect, and memory jogged by regular friend to the blog, Luke Healey, Del Rio had been in an especially foul mood throughout the night, and it was now that this really came out. Firstly, as Miz was preparing to superplex Punk through the table at the outside, Del Rio hit a sharp enziguiri to Punk which sent him through the same title he was destined for. After this, Del Rio smashed Miz with a ladder and then a chair, before using his cross arm breaker on the prone Punk through the chair, before laying a chair over Punk and hitting him with another. Del Rio was dominant at this point, but when trying to capitalise, he was foiled while on the ladder, with Punk and Miz making an unlikely and desperate pairing to tip the ladder and send Del Rio crotch-first in to the ropes. Shortly after, Ricardo Rodriguez proved loyal again, climbing the ladder for the title. This time, Miz and Punk worked together again to tip Rodriguez over for an even more spectacular spot; a throwback to the early noughties as he fell from the top of the ladder to the tables outside the ring. Somewhat upsettingly, he missed one of the two tables, making for a much more painful seeming spot. Down to Miz and Punk for now, and Miz took centre stage (the way the three shared centre stage was really impressive) as he managed to handcuff Punk to the corner turnbuckle before goading Punk, so confident was he that this spelled victory. Howevr, while he was out of arm-reach, he wasn’t out of kick-reach (if you will) and he nailed Miz with his roundhouse. Now Punk really seemed trapped, and it was even more urgent as Del Rio and later Miz fought for his title. Again, Cena would have ripped the turnbuckle away. Punk however, as an indy ‘schmuk’ knows how to dismantle a ring, and did so to escape and interrupt their attempts. So desperate was Punk that he fought with even more passion, hitting both with rights. This knocked Del Rio down before he pulled Miz down for a GTS, allowing him to climb the ladder for his title. This wasn’t Cena taking offense all day and winning out of nowhere, this was Punk scrapping through a brutal match, and using his skill and wiles to come out victorious. After all, he is the best in the world, and this match showcased that. Del Rio and Miz looked great too, and more competitive than they do against Cena – its matches like this which make the WWE Championship interesting again.

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