It was a strange night last Sunday at WWE’s yearly TLC event. Two of the headliners for the card, Roman Reigns and Bray Wyatt, were sidelined with what WWE termed a “viral infection,” so the company was left scrambling to fill two big holes in the lineup.
The absence of Wyatt and Reigns may have been a blessing in disguise for WWE. The company replaced Reigns with Raw General Manager Kurt Angle in the main event, and AJ Styles flew back from South America to take Wyatt’s spot vs. Finn Balor.
What originally looked like a strong episode of Raw became a better-than-average PPV outing. That’s good news for WWE, since the performance at the “premiere” events has been inconsistent, at best.
The Professor’s TLC Review and Rehash
Sasha Banks vs. Alicia Fox (Kickoff Show) – This was a better match than it had any right to be. Fox is actually somewhat compelling as an unhinged attention-starved heel. Banks has demonstrated the ability to work smoothly with any woman on the roster, and this was no different. Banks got the win here, but Fox stole a win Monday night to become the captain of the Raw women’s team for the upcoming Survivor Series event in November.
Cedric Alexander and Rich Swann vs. The Brian Kendrick and Gentleman Jack (The Ripper) Gallagher – This was a pretty good bout, though the crowd was largely dead for it. It was nice to see WWE put two cruiserweight matches on an actual PPV instead of burying the high flyers on the Kickoff Show. Swann and Alexander came out on top here, but it really doesn’t matter too much, since no one in the division matters if their name isn’t Enzo Amore.
Finn Balor vs. AJ Styles – This was a huge win for the WWE Universe, and not just because it was a dream match. Styles facing Balor saved us all from probably seeing Bray Wyatt come to the ring in some sort of dress, as he was taken over by the spirit of Sister Abagail, thus completely divesting him of any credibility he had left. The match itself was everything you’d expect it to be. Styles and Balor put on one hell of a show. Both were rewarded with prime spots on Raw the following night. Styles was part of a win with the remaining members of The Shield, and Balor was fed to the suddenly-relevant Kane. Sigh.
Kalisto vs. Enzo Amore (Cruiserweight Championship) – This one went exactly the way everyone knew it was going to go. Amore heeled his way to a “controversial” win over the luchador. Amore does have undeniable skills on the microphone, and he plays the heel very well. The only problem is that his relative lack of in-ring skills shows up very clearly when he’s on the mat with the better workers in the Cruiserweight division. Amore’s reign shows no signs of ending any time soon (unless Neville comes back). Get used to a 205 Live with great promos and below-average matches from the champion.
Asuka vs. Emma – A lot of people were outraged that Emma was able to hold her own with the Empress of tomorrow in this match. I’m not one of them. WWE wants to portray Asuka as dominant. That doesn’t mean she has to mow down every opponent in under a minute. Think about it like football. The New England Patriots have been a dominant team for over a decade now. Do they blow out every opponent by 30 points? No. They just win almost every week. Asuka will win every week. She doesn’t need to utterly destroy the rest of the division to dominate it.
Alexa Bliss vs. Mickie James (Raw Women’s Championship) – James put on a strong showing here, and it looks like she’ll remain in the title picture for a while. That’s a good thing. WWE can tease the eventual Asuka-Bliss match for a good long while now. Bliss can continue her feud with James after Survivor Series next month, while Asuka beats up a stable of worthy foes. Once Survivor Series (where Bliss will fact Natayla in a champion vs. champion match) is over, the build to Bliss/Asuka can start in earnest.
The Shield (minus Roman Reigns, plus Kurt Angle) vs. The Miz, The Bar, Braun Strowman and Kane (Tables, Ladders and Chairs match) – This match was about what you’d expect it to be, except for the fact that Kane ended up dominating Braun Strowman. WWE did an excellent job building up the Monster Among Men for roughly a year, only to tear him back down in order to put over Brock Lesnar and Kane. I understand that they’re building up to a Kane/Strowman match, but Strowman should never, ever be dominated. (Or put in a garbage truck for that matter.) Apparently, WWE is absolutely intent on having Lesnar face Reigns for the title at WrestleMania, no matter how much it damages the rest of the roster getting them there.
Next week will feature Random Thoughts, including some commentary on the SmackDown invasion of Raw and WWE’s idea that announcing champion vs. champion matches four weeks before a PPV is a good idea. Till ‘then……