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Dec 13

TLC 2009

Posted on Sunday, December 13, 2009 by Paul in Wrestling

The WWE’s 2009 pay-per-view schedule wraps up tonight with TLC, another of the themed events which they’ve been trying over the last few months.  This one is notionally chosen by fans polled on the website, but (as usual when the WWE allows the fans to vote) anyone could have seen the result coming a mile away.  The fans have opted for the most spectacular, and least practical, option.  And now the writers have to try and make it work.

As fans of a certain vintage will know, the TLC match were created in 2000 as part of the seemingly neverending three-way tag-team feud between the Hardy Boys, the Dudleys, and Edge & Christian.  The Hardys had recently made their name in a ladder match.  The Dudleys had joined the company from ECW (still a vaguely anarchic indie at that point), complete with their bizarre and absurd gimmick of throwing opponents through cheap plywood tables.  And Edge & Christian, then going through their Bill & Ted phase, had started hitting opponents with simultaneous chairshots, a move which they dubbed “the con-chair-to.”  (WWE comedy was actually much better in those days, and it’s important to understand that the joke wasn’t so much the lousy wordplay itself, as the fact that Edge and Christian were so proud of themselves for having thought of it.) 

Hence, the TLC match: tables, ladders and chairs.  In practice, it’s a ladder match with added hardware lying around.  Since you can’t get disqualified in a ladder match in the first place, adding further weapons doesn’t really change the rules.  It’s still the first person to climb the ladder and retrieve whatever object happens to be suspended over the ring.

Of course, back in 2000, the company was rather more reckless about what they would allow major stars to do.  They’ve reined in the product a lot since those days.  Which presents the problem: how the hell do you book a show of these things without it being a disappointment, and using the current roster of main eventers, some of whom wouldn’t (or shouldn’t) be seen dead in a ladder match of any description?  The solution is to fudge it: we’re getting one proper TLC match, plus a tables match, a ladder match and (ahem) a chairs match.  Plus some other stuff.

So – let’s look at the card!

1.  WWE Tag Team Titles, TLC match: Chris Jericho & The Big Show v. D-Generation X (Triple H & Shawn Michaels).  It’s not often that a WWE pay-per-view is headlined by the tag titles, but then it’s been a while since main eventers were regularly competing for those belts.  Unifying the Raw and Smackdown titles, and allowing the champions to appear on all three shows, has done wonders for their prestige, not least because it’s provided an excuse to get Chris Jericho back on Raw, even though he’s supposed to be on the Smackdown roster. 

Triple H and Shawn Michaels have never actually held the tag team belts, which is mainly because they’ve never shown much interest in getting them.  The current, tag-team incarnation of DX dates from a period when the tag belts were a bit of a joke, and plainly beneath them.  Obviously, this was bad writing: if you’re going to book them as a tag team who crush everyone in their paths, plainly they should be the tag champions.  But that’s not how it works in practice.  (Incidentally, some of the commentators have carefully specified that Triple H and Shawn have never held the tag belts, and avoided saying that D-Generation X never held them.  That’s because they remember, and care, that the New Age Outlaws were members of the original stable when they held the tag titles in 1997.)

Even in this match, DX still seem to regard the tag titles as beneath them.  Instead, the focus has been on the fact that the tag champions get to appear on all three brands – so if DX win the titles, Chris Jericho gets booted back to Smackdown.  I’d rather see them make more of the championship, but hey, at least something meaningful is at stake.

Jericho and Michaels are very good at this sort of match.  Their partners won’t be so at home, but I’m sure they’ll put something good together.  That said, I expect them to focus more on telling a story than on killing themselves.  And I’d rather see them tell a story – but there’s a risk here of underwhelming on expectations, given the history of TLC matches, unless they put on the kind of stunt show that I just can’t imagine from these four.

As for who should win… it’s a tough call, actually.  You can’t really do a straight rematch after a TLC match, so this ought to be the end of the storyline.  That would normally mean that DX should win… but DX clearly have no interest in being tag champions.  And if they do win the titles, who do they defend against?  They’ve already feuded with the Legacy and won, and there are no other obvious challengers in their league.  Also, Jericho’s very valuable to Raw, so writing him out is a big deal unless you’ve got a powerful reason for doing so.  Taking all that into consideration, I’m guessing that the champions retain… but nothing would surprise me.

2.  WWE Title, Tables Match: John Cena v. Sheamus.  An interesting one.  The WWE seems to have belatedly taken on board the criticism that their main events are stale, and that they need to get some new blood into the mix.  So, rather out of the blue, John Cena is going to defend his title against Sheamus, the big Irish guy who only just got promoted from ECW.

Of course, they’ve still got it wrong.  This is far too early.  Sheamus is virtually unknown to the casual fans.  He’s had barely a handful of competitive matches on television, most of them on ECW against Shelton Benjamin.  And given the company’s track record in abandoning new wrestlers after an initial push, it takes a few months these days to convince fans that somebody really belong in the main event.  It can be done – week after week of squash matches worked well for Umaga.  But they’ve almost certainly pulled the trigger too early on this one.  In many ways, Sheamus would have been a better opponent for next month’s Royal Rumble – that show is sold mainly on the drawing power of the eponymous battle royal, so it’s an ideal show for rising stars to get their first title shots on the undercard.

A tables match, by the way, is simply a match where you win by throwing your opponent through a cheap, plywood table, just like the Dudleys used to do ten years ago.  It hasn’t been done in a while, which is something, but they do have their problems – you can’t do near-falls, which always makes it harder to build tension, and they have a tendency to grind to a halt while wrestlers arrange furniture.  Still, the writers are trying to turn this to advantage and pushing the idea that a big guy like Sheamus should be particularly well placed to win in a match which is essentially about throwing other people around.

It’ll be a miracle if he actually wins, but if he puts in a good performance, he’s got a reasonable shot of cementing himself at the top.  Frankly, we’ve seen so little of Sheamus that it’s hard to know what this will be like.

3.  ECW Championship, Ladder Match: Christian v. Shelton Benjamin.  Two athletic guys from ECW, both babyfaces, in a good old-fashioned ladder match.  Since the main eventers won’t be setting out to kill themselves in the main event, the opening may be there for Christian and Benjamin to steal the show with the sort of stunts that made ladder matches so popular in the first place.  But it could equally go the other way; this is an undercard ladder match, and they may end up toning it down to make sure that the main event doesn’t come as an anticlimax.  After all, undercard matches aren’t meant to steal the show… hence the term.

This match seems to have been put together out of the blue because Christian and Benjamin are both good in ladder matches.  Christian’s actually in an ongoing feud with William Regal, an old-fashioned mat wrestler who would emphatically not be at home in a ladder match.  Benjamin, a great athlete who’s never quite had the charisma to make it to the next level, is a better pairing.  Christian should retain, and if they’re allowed to go nuts, it’ll be great.

4.  World Heavyweight Title, Chairs Match: The Undertaker v. Batista.  Ah.  Well.  Smackdown’s world title feud features two guys who don’t belong in any sort of ladder match, and so they’ve given them the easiest option: whacking one another with steel chairs for ten minutes.  While ladder matches and tables matches are well-established features of modern wrestling, the chairs match is something that’s been invented for the purpose of rounding out the show.  The general reaction has been along the lines of “They’re kidding, right?”

I don’t know how you build a match around chairs except by doing endless chairshots, which is just monotonous.  I wouldn’t have been very interested in this match at the best of times; and the gimmick positively detracts from it.

Batista has recently turned heel, and demolished Rey Mysterio on the last show, apparently cutting short a plan for them to have a lengthy feud.  I wouldn’t be altogether surprised if he won here, since you’d have thought they’d want at least one heel champion going into Wrestlemania in the spring, and if so, it’s probably time to make the switch.  That said, Smackdown isn’t exactly overflowing with babyface challengers for a heel champion right now.  I don’t expect the match to be much good.

5.  WWE Intercontinental Title: John Morrison v. Drew McIntyre.  Moving on to the regular matches, Morrison has held Smackdown’s secondary title since September.  But McIntyre is something of a pet project for the company, and he’s clearly being presented as a future main eventer.  So far, the live crowds don’t seem to be buying it, but patience is everything.  McIntyre does have something; whether he’s main event calibre is another matter entirely.  Either way, the next step is clearly to give him a run as a midcard champion.  He needs this title a lot more than Morrison does – in fact, if Batista is winning the world title, the WWE would probably want to free up Morrison as a babyface world title challenger.

McIntyre has heel charisma but his matches have been a bit plodding so far.  He really needs a good match against Morrison tonight to justify his push.

6.  WWE Women’s Title: Michelle McCool v. Mickie James.  The less said about this angle, the better.  It’s a deeply misguided storyline based on McCool and her cronies bullying Mickie James for not being quite as thin as them.  Since McCool is reputed to have a history of real-life eating disorders (and has certainly looked terrifyingly thin at times in her career), one can only marvel at the idiocy that led somebody to sign off on such a thing.  Normally the pay-off would be that Mickie wins and gets the title.  Anything else would be ludicrous, but then the storyline already is.  The match is unlikely to be any good.

7.  Randy Orton v. Kofi Kingston. The only non-title match on the card, but it’s an important one.  This is the second month of the feud between Orton, a long-established main event heel, and Kingston, a midcard babyface who is clearly being elevated here.  Foolishly, they’ve already done two matches on Raw, with screwjob finishes; that makes this the rubber match, but if they had more sense, they’d just have kept the match for this show.  The build-up has, to some degree, backfired and taken some of the heat out of the feud.

Nonetheless, there is a clear opportunity here.  Kingston should win.  It won’t hurt Orton, whose position is secure, but it has the potential to make a new main eventer, and god knows they need some.  An Orton win really achieves nothing, other than to lock both guys in their existing positions – and what’s the point in that?  I’m expecting a strong match from these two.

Worth buying?  It’s a mixed card.  A couple of these matches are likely to be lousy, but one of those is the women’s match, which is also likely to be short.  A couple more are hard to predict, but feature rising stars who really need to perform well tonight, and that’s always intriguing in its own right.  And the two ladder matches, on paper, should be great.  Not a sure thing, but certainly an interesting card.

Bring on the comments

  1. Jonny K says:

    Not following wrestling, except for reading your previews here, this seems like the first time in a while you’ve been really enthusiastic about a match. Have WWE got better lately?

  2. D. says:

    A request: Can you write a blog post where you try to explain to us philistines why you like this stuff? I love your X-Axis reviews and have been reading for several years now. Your taste for pop music I can understand, even if I can’t relate. I’m at a complete loss when it comes to your taste for wrestling.

  3. Iain says:

    Surely the NAO were in the second generation of DX, post Michaels?

  4. Paul C says:

    If DX win they could drop it to the sublime Hart Dynasty or the far less likely option of The Dudebusters of new on ECW. But you’ll end up with DX running through the mid-card for a while…so business as usual then. If JeriShow win, just who do they defend against? I think DX will win (which would suck) because I’ve a suspicion Jericho might win the Rumble (giving him an excuse to appear/move to Raw).

    Agreed about Sheamus (he definitely can go though). They’ve done well to build him but I think they are giving him enough rope to swing or hang, and they really need to see this feud through to next month though to help him & as Cena has no challengers. McIntyre/Morrison was fine on SD! the other week and should be grand. It’s a coin toss though, so is the enjoyable Kofi/Orton (botched Legacy interference to lead to Ted DiBiase’s babyface turn perhaps?).

    ECW match should be very good with Christian retaining. World title match should be boring with Taker winning, but Batista winning next month. By rights Mickie James should win for a ‘happy’ ending, but won’t cause McTaker holds too much power. And it’ll be the usual Divas rubbish/bathroom-break between big title matches.

  5. where you try to explain to us philistines why you like this stuff?

    Ongoing combat soap with twists and turns and fabulous outfits starring people that look and act like nothing else on Earth?

    You better believe it, bub!


  6. Actually, I prefer the phrase “Combat Fiction,” thinking about it.



  7. Jim says:

    I always have to watch between my fingers when Shelton is in a ladder match. There’s usually at one one spot where he botches something just enough that I’m convinced he’s going to kill himself, or someone else in the process.

  8. Actually, I’d like to reject “Combat Fiction” as an unfortunate lapse into cod-Ellisism.



  9. Baines says:

    You say that the WWE has main event guys who shouldn’t be near a TLC match. Heck, they have guys that shouldn’t be near a match at all. It is almost amazing how badly the quality of Smackdown has nosedived with the return of Batista.

    You can have the equivalent of near falls in tables matches, but they just don’t work as well. Ever since the Hardy Boyz days, the WWE had to specify that you don’t lose by putting yourself through a table. This of course allows someone to be set on or against a table, only to move out of the way at the last moment, similar to breaking a pinfall at the 2.99 count. They’ve also tried teasing with reversals on the sturdier announce tables. (They could also rig an announce table not to break if they wanted.)

    One other thing about table matches is that you don’t have to beat down the opponent to win, particularly with tables propped in corners. You can win with as little as a minor shove at the right time. A table match can end in a matter of seconds, and the face wrestler can do this without using heel tactics. The WWE easily do something like have Cena get a quick clean win only to have an uninjured Sheamus beat him down afterward. Not that they will.

  10. James says:

    If they were serious about getting new blood into the mix they could have Christian drop the title to Benjamin and move Christian over to Smackdown. This creates another babyface challenger for Batista, and elevates Benjamin while letting him get some experience being on top on ECW.

  11. Thomas says:

    I’ve never watched wrestling, although I enjoy reading these match previews. Based on reading on the internet, it seems to me that what people like about wrestling has more to do with meta-analysis of what the storytellers are likely to do than really being interested in the characters or, certainly, the stories themselves.

    You also hear a lot of comments about how wrestling is just as exciting or has just as compelling characters as other kinds of fiction, combined with complaints about how the WWE is running the genre into the ground (similar to conventional wisdom about modern comics!) There seems to be a lot of social class-based genre loyalty involved.

  12. Shawn C. says:

    Re: the ECW guys, I gather – from about ten minutes of ECW I happened to catch t’other day – that “stealing the show” is exactly the point; the angle is that Christian and Benjamin, both babyfaces, are going into the match with the intent to outperform anyone and everyone, as a way of getting the ECW some badly-needed spotlight.

    I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see them do exactly that – as opposed to the tired and cliche heel turn for shock value (most of the viewers won’t be stunned by a heel turn because they don’t particularly care about these two wrestlers, and may not even be aware that they’re both babyfaces!). It’d be a gutsy move, possibly preparatory to bringing some ECW talent up into “the big leagues.”

  13. Gibsoncanada says:

    I like to call wrestling “Physical Theater” or “Combat Theater”. It’s this weird performance art that really is unlike anything else. It’s totally fake and seriously real at the same time. The great wrestlers don’t need a soap opera around them to tell a story in the ring. I think that’s what WWE is missing. The wrestling is what carries the drama, not the other way around.

  14. Jefferson says:

    I call it for what it is: a bunch of guys prancing around in skin-tight outfits and in compensation for some regular monetary benefit of some sort, they try to entertain as many viewers as possible so the networks can claim as high a ratings figure for potential advertisers. I surmise FWIW there’s an underlying amount of scripted play-by-play as with all reality-type television, but then again there’s also somewhat of a twinge of possible improv theater as well. Granted, the action is more physical in its own right, but by no means can this considered the real thing.

    Personally, I’m a bit averse this sort of thing because my own preconceptions of the genre and fanbase involve rural area, blue collar workers getting all worked up something akin to people pointlessly bashing each other for no apparent reason. It’s not what I consider “high-brow” concept art in any imaginable sense of the phrasing…

  15. Dave Henderson says:

    Most of the audience these days is fully aware how how ridiculous it all is and a lot of the entertainment value is derived from that. One of modern wrestling’s (many) problems is that it’s a bit impenetrable if you don’t understand the genre conventions.

  16. Daibhid Ceannaideach says:

    I’m another one who’s fascinated by your wrestling reviews, even though I’ve no interest in the actual wrestling.

    I’m here for the comics reviews, so of course I’m not interested in seeing a bunch of people in funny costumes beating each other up for arcane reasons comprehensible only to people who’ve been following the backstory for the past year…

  17. Ben Johnston says:

    There’s a lot more than a twinge of improv in wrestling matches, at least the good ones. Most wrestlers go into the ring with only key spots, including the finish, planned out. The rest is worked out on the fly, based on how the crowd is reacting.

  18. Paul says:

    Well, that’s the ideal. In practice the length of the match, the complexity of the story (i.e., how many other people are involved), and the need to cover up inept wrestlers often require more planning. But in principle, yes, wrestlers are generally improvising within a pre-planned structure. It’s not generally choreographed move-for-move in advance.

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