Close to a decade ago on Monday Night Raw, WWE was in the process of hyping the groundbreaking (as in, breaking old ground at a time where doing so permeated the room with daisy-freshness) ECW One Night Stand pay-per-view. On the Raw in question, Chris Benoit raved about his memories in the land of Extreme, and agreed to take on Yoshihiro Tajiri, an ECW icon past Benoit’s seven-month tenure, in an Extreme Rules match.
The problem was plain to an ECW fan: Benoit wasn’t associated with weapons in ECW. His time was measured by breaking Sabu’s neck on a lifter-gone-bad, ragdolling a waifish Al Snow with a Brock Lesnar-like barrage of throwing suplexes, and teaming with Dean Malenko for a six-week reign as Tag Team Champions, overthrowing Sabu and Taz. Very rarely did Benoit alter his character from emotionless mat machine to fit the stereotypical view of the ECW wrestler.
ECW was about embracing your inner animal to the nth degree, and if it just so happened to involve sadistic use of weapons (Sabu, New Jack, The Sandman), then great. If you were a technician or daredevil that didn’t seek constraint by those fancy-pants sanitized promotions (Benoit, Rey Mysterio, Jerry Lynn), then steal the show with your literal body of work.
Weapons have a place, no doubt, but when they’re applied incorrectly, it cheapens their aura of danger. Weapons for the sake of weapons kills off the appeal quicker than you’d think.
In 2014, ‘extreme’ is passe without innovation or a story to tell. That wasn’t any more evident than during TLC on Sunday night, with no less than five (!) gimmick matches promising carnage and the eradication of a fighter’s will to carry on.
Problem: none of the stories were particularly potent. The lack of a meaningful World Title bout (or *any* World Title match) was bad enough, but TLC was an incredible misfire. Making matters worse, there was the report that the WWE locker room didn’t want to be upstaged by the fantastic NXT Takeover: R Evolution event this past Thursday. It was going to take a major effort to outdo Finn Balor’s transformation, Charlotte and Sasha Banks’ enjoyable bout, the rise of Kevin Owens, and the culmination of Sami Zayn as he finally took down Adrian Neville.
Sadly, what we got out of TLC, I believe, was WWE’s idea of ‘topping’ NXT: weapons for the sake of weapons. Somebody should bring up at the next closed-door meeting the idea that maybe, just maybe, a broken table might be about as fresh as VHS.
The opener was as good as it would get, a high quality ladder match for the Intercontinental Title with Dolph Ziggler capturing the belt before his hometown Cleveland fans, besting Luke Harper. Ziggler is a viable hero, and Harper a capable monster heel. The two lost plenty of unintentional blood and gave it their all. Ziggler’s hot as a performer at the moment, so that buoyed the weightless story (no fault of the performers). Ziggler and Harper’s willingness to sacrifice their bodies held the bout together, and Ziggler’s win felt special.
The next gimmick bout had to follow a screwjob finish, and it was sent out there to die: Big Show vs. Erick Rowan in a “stairs” match, where the metal ring steps are the only legal weapon. Begs the question, if Show bashes Rowan with the steps, but then doesn’t break an armbar on five when Rowan has the ropes, is it really sensible to disqualify him?
Quirks of the rules aside, the match was plenty dreadful. Faint “NXT” chants were heard in the distance, which said it all. The match came to be when he, brace yourself, hit Rowan with the steps on Raw a couple weeks back. They even modified the event name, tacking on “and Stairs” with a soldering iron, for eleven minutes of tedium. It’s hard to fathom anyone purchasing WWE Network solely to see a match with this background.
At the 9 PM hour, John Cena went over on Seth Rollins in a table match to preserve his shot at Brock Lesnar for the Royal Rumble. Admirably, they got the crowd back after Show and Rowan’s debacle, which was trumped only by Johnny Manziel for worst outing in Cleveland on the day. The match, by the standards of the men involved, did drag, and became extra convoluted with a false finish (Rollins went through a table with the referee down), a double-finish (the match resumed after both men went through another table), and the interference of Jamie Noble, Joey Mercury, and Show. Roman Reigns evened the odds and Cena managed to put Rollins through, seen by the referee, to win.
By this point, we’ve seen tables breaking, dives off of ladders, blood, and copious use of metal ring steps. It’s four matches into the show, bear in mind.
The fourth ‘special’ bout was almost as dull as the stairs one, featuring Ryback and Kane in a match where chairs are legal. While it’s somewhat silly (but wholly understandable) that two hulking brutes don’t swing the chairs at the other man’s skull like Miguel Cabrera in the Home Run Derby, there was nothing exciting about the match. Kane is dead as a performer, and Ryback simply isn’t catching on, no matter how much metal he wielded. The smattering of boos he received for six minutes off and on was suddenly drowned by a “FEED ME MORE” chant that started at the highest decibel. Well, comparing him to Goldberg is a bit wrong, but at least they have the heat machine in common.
Dean Ambrose and Bray Wyatt were tasked with heading off the downward slide with a TLC match, combining chairs, tables, and ladders from the prior bouts (but no stairs, the athletic commission put their foot down). Nevermind that WWE found a way to put two compelling performers, with endless personality, into a feud with as much depth as a steam tray, now they’re tasked with blowing off the PPV with something memorable, using implements that had already been, pun intended, beaten into the ground.
Ambrose’s manic antics woke the crowd up in the latter stages, but that was merely the prelude to quite the corny finish: Ambrose blinding himself with a TV monitor that was still plugged in, so that when he tried to yank it in for weapon usage, the sparks from the disconnection temporarily blinded him. Wyatt pinned him with Sister Abigail seconds later.
The lure of the event was destruction through specific weapons. WWE delivered on its promise, but yet it feels as though nothing was accomplished.
For a company that brags that it ‘tells stories’, it sure does lean on props to fill the dead spots. Compared to smaller-fries NXT, those dead spots are becoming more and more frequent.