Monday, October 23, 2017

Oh, I Love Trash: WWE TLC 2017 Review

Photo Credit:
In the TH Style, obviously.

  • Asuka defeated Emma in the opening match with the Asuka Lock.
  • Cedric Alexander and Rich Swann won over Brian Kendrick and Gentleman Jack Gallagher after Alexander hit Kendrick with the Lumbar Check.
  • Alexa Bliss retained the RAW Women's Championship over Mickie James with a DDT and a pin.
  • Enzo Amore regained the Cruiserweight Championship via pinfall after an eyepoke and the Sole Food.
  • Finn Bálor took out AJ Styles with the Coup de Grace.
  • After interrupting Elias' performances all night by throwing produce, Jason Jordan goaded him into a match and beat him with a roll-up.
  • Braun Strowman and Kane started brawling with each other in the main event after miscommunication, leading to the rest of their team turning on The Monster Among Men and throwing him into the back of a garbage truck.
  • Dean Ambrose, Seth Rollins, and Kurt Angle won the main event after hitting Miz with the Shield Triple Powerbomb.

General Observations:
  • Honestly, I'm still not sure why Emma had to earn the right to wrestle Asuka with no titles on the line and only a debuting superstar as the prize. I understand Asuka is important overall, but this just felt like more shitty meta-storytelling, although not nearly as offensive as Dolph Ziggler's entire being.
  • The heel stalling in someone's debut match is a trope that WWE needs to put on ice for awhile next to "Champion loses non-title match to build for rematch" and "pushing Kane without Daniel Bryan as a tag partner."
  • Booker T calling this match like he's never even heard of Asuka before seeing her was both patently annoying to me, the NXT fan, and totally understandable as a sort of metaphor for the number of fans who don't watch NXT and were seeing her for the first time. "She needs t'find anuddah gear" was some basic shit that kinda played a lot into how WWE fumbled this first match in layout at least.
  • WWE wants all its superstars to be extremely online, and it strains so fucking hard to go viral, which is why this "Emma cares too much about social media LOL" character is so grating. Either cater to your average age of viewer by heeling young people behavior or, y'know, practice what you preach and maybe don't heel one of your best wrestlers by making her aware of trending and other shit you motherfuckers love to co-opt for yourselves?
  • Asuka taking the slap and smiling should have gone right into her finishing flurry, but the match was laid out to continue the heat, which was baffling. I hate that the term "fireworks factory" gets overused in review writing, but if any match had me waiting for something bigger to happen, it was the opener.
  • The paradox of it all was that it was a really well-laid out match. Emma worked really well on top, and Asuka showed she can do the vulnerability thing that she wasn't necessarily called upon to do in NXT.
  • The promo segment with Miz whinily rallying the troops felt like the most obvious foreshadowing ever, like WWE couldn't help itself from nudging the audience into getting spoiled on how the heroes were going to pull this thing off.
  • Elias riffing on local music scenes is what's going to give this cheap heat generating gimmick a whole lot of legs. Although I wished he would've went with the crowd diss early on in his Prince "Let's Go Crazy" preacher intro, I can't complain with him honoring one of the most iconic dudes ever to pick up a guitar.
  • I understand wanting to get back at someone for a slight, especially in wrestling where scores get settled with VIOLENCE, but Vince McMahon's WWE never fails to portray the supposed good guy in the least flattering way possible. Jason Jordan tossing vegetables unbagged from a shopping cart felt like such a try-hard move. I'm not sure how anyone would want to cheer him unless they really stretched the definition of ironic humor far.
  • If the cruiserweight tag match had one flaw, it was that Jack Gallagher and Brian Kendrick Miz'd Cedric Alexander on the tope con hilo early on in the match. Thankfully, they weren't tasked with keeping him safe on the fall, but they were too far up and made the move's impact look piddling compared to how BEAUTIFUL it was in the mid-air rotation.
  • No, Nigel McGuinness, I guarantee you Gordon Solie probably had never uttered the words "sports" and "entertainment" in immediate succession.
  • Mickie James came out for her shot at the RAW Women's Championship in denim-colored and patterned jeans and a ringcoat. Was she headed to a formal event in Canada?
  • That was a low blow. I'd like to apologize to the great nation of Canada and pass along my condolences on Gord Downie's passing.
  • James making Alexa Bliss flinch into the ropes and then smacking her ass was such a cagey veteran move that it almost made up for the rampant ageism in their current feud. Almost.
  • The commentary team finally acknowledged how goddamn stupid it was to make an entire feud highlighting how old James was when Goldberg was the fucking Universal Champion for two whole months earlier in the year.
  • James hit an actual closed-window hurricanrana, which made her better than the at-the-time Cruiserweight Champion.
  • Bliss came out with a Canadian Destroyer that only got a two count, but finished the match with her DDT. I'm pretty sure the Jim Cornettes of the world took that as some kind of commentary that wasn't there.
  • Seriously, who let Jordan escape the supermarket parking lot with a shopping cart?
  • Corey Graves, however, got all the rave reviews for dropping local music references in Elias' segments. Semisonic and The Replacements? Nice.
  • Enzo Amore lost his voice and yet still cut his pre-match promo without really letting up. Relative to his talents, that was his Michael Jordan Flu Game of performances.
  • "Kalisto Killed Harambe" sign made me wonder if one year was enough time for those jokes to be funny again, or if the irony poisoning on that needs a lot more time to detoxify.
  • Nothing will ever be funnier to me than Amore trying to grapple. I used to be on the "Enzo isn't bad" train in the ring, but god, he has been exposed lately. Putting him on 205 Live was a mistake, so obviously, WWE had to make him Champion again. It's working for Jinder Mahal on Smackdown!
  • For a good match, it felt like AJ Styles vs. Finn Bálor took awhile to get going. Then again, Bálor was all Daemon'd up to fight Bray Wyatt, so I guess this match didn't have to take on the bombs-dropping tenor that a match with actual hot history would have.
  • I'm going to be honest with you all. My brother got married this past weekend, and by the time TLC rolled around, I was really at my most tired from what was a wild-ass weekend of partying. So my notes for this match weren't exactly the neatest and my attention wasn't exactly the most awake at the time. I'll probably go back and re-watch the whole match, but from what I got, it was definitely better than whatever pseudo-horror schlockfest the company would've given the crowd with Wyatt.
  • Still though, the "too sweet" at the end was super fucking gross. I don't blame Bálor or Styles at all for it, because hey, they helped cultivate the brand and what not. But it's like, WWE totally embraces the movie villain role that every Trump Administration bigshot does, and frankly, I don't want that kind of bullshit infecting my entertainment. It's not fair to the workers in WWE. It's not fair the Bullet Club dudes whose bottom lines are getting pinched. It's not fair period.
  • Ah, finally, the match where the poor musician got to exact revenge on the produce-wasting heckler from before. Wait, that's not how the story was presented? Oh dear.
  • I will say that I'll never get tired of seeing Jordan pluck dudes out of the air on leapfrog attempts to slam them down.
  • Elias is going to be a huge deal for WWE if it doesn't pigeonhole him into some dork heel role like it did Damien Sandow, intellectual savior era that is. He got people to cheer Jordan, which is not something many people can say.
  • Kurt Angle came down with the Rest of The Shield in the flak jacket which was fine except he kept mugging for the camera. I'm not sure he got the whole oeuvre, but really, at this point, I'll be happy if he can get his pants on without assistance in the morning.
  • The smartest thing possible for both a "hiding the old guys' weaknesses" and a "hey, that really makes sense!" standpoint was breaking out the plunder right away.
  • Angle going through a table early was the biggest shock and maybe the one thing that proved either he's crazier than anyone thought or that maybe people have been exaggerating how hurt/broken his body really is.
  • Of course, he did a stretcher/medical emergency spot, and hey, one of the EMTs was Darin Corbin!
  • WWE ignoring TNA and New Japan Pro Wrestling trying to claim this match was Angle's return to wrestling, not just WWE, in 11 years was understandable, but Booker going along with that verbiage when they were in the same stable in TNA showed how much of a company stooge he could really be.
  • Ah, so the Kane/Strowman interruptions earlier WERE foreshadowing! Very clever, guys. Very clever indeed. Although it didn't play out nearly as long as I thought, at least then...
  • It's a good thing I was kinda avoiding Twitter during the main event, because man, the number of people who probably made Duke "The Dumpster" Droese references when the trash truck came out would've made me facepalm so hard that I'd have broken my nose.
  • That being said, Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins diving off said garbage truck was both expected and still totally ruled.
  • ...oh, Kane didn't forget that Strowman hit him. Honestly, having Kane and then the rest of the team take out Strowman was height of Attitude Era capriciousness, but, I mean, did YOU really buy the idea of Strowman being a team player the whole way through?
  • Besides, it set up yet another ridiculous scenario where any normal man would've died a billion times just for Strowman to come back and break everyone else in half.
  • Angle making the big heroic return was the most obvious setup, but I almost was afraid Strowman was going to come back dragging the garbage truck on his ankle to throw Angle halfway to Mankato.
  • Angle doing the Shield Bomb with the other two at the end felt a bit weird, but hey, I'll take it.

Match of the Night Jack Gallagher and Brian Kendrick vs. Cedric Alexander and Rich Swann - I had high hopes for this match going in mainly because all four guys are aces and they were able to have a story behind them. They did not disappoint, even if the match screamed "They were told in Gorilla to do their standard stuff" in the second slot between two highlight matches. The fact that they were able to go out and have perhaps the best match of the night speaks to how good all of them were. For Swann and Alexander to get main crowd reactions after months of toiling in front of exiting crowds, dead tired from two condensed hours of Smackdown every week, speaks to how electric they are.

Swann put on the highlights early with a seamless cartwheel escape out of a lockup. Things like that may seem small in the grand scheme of things, but man, they really do put some pepper on a match. The little things like that set up bigger stuff at the end, like the Phoenix Splash to break up the Captain's Hook. One looks at how easy he makes the minutiae, and they expect the grand strokes, only to be amazed at even how well those big things pop off the screen. Alexander had the big highs and the flashy moves, but his oeuvre was decidedly different and complementary to his partner's. No one does a dive to the outside like he does. No one really lands the big kick let alone landing it and segueing perfectly into the next spot. His skills were prominently on display last night. People like to crap on newer wrestlers for too much "choreography," as if everyone's NOT in on the joke nowadays, but those people do have a kernel of legitimacy to their complaints. The thing is, the best guys, like Alexander and Swann, never make the athleticism take precedence over the fact that they're trying to win a match.

And of course, Gallagher and Kendrick provided great bases for their opponents, even if the match wasn't explicitly about them. Alexander was a great hot tag for sure, but it was up to the heels, Gallagher especially, to foment the crowd's desire to see Alexander get in there and clean house. Kendrick was mostly a glue guy, but man, the timing and execution on the Swann counter into the Northern Lights suplex on the outside was on point. Honestly, I didn't expect this match to get as much shine as it did, and even more honestly, I thought they deserved a lot more. However, they all went out, busted their asses, and made sure the crowd was just as up for Mickie James and Alexa Bliss as it was for Asuka and Emma. That's the best thing one can ask for with the second match on the card.

Overall Thoughts: I heard rumblings going into this show that it was one of the worst cards WWE put out this year on paper. Honestly, I didn't see it, even before Roman Reigns and Bray Wyatt were felled by the "viral infection" that is seemingly running rampant throughout the company right now. Real talk, everything went at least as expected, with the Kalisto vs. Enzo Amore match actually overdelivering a bit (mostly due to Kalisto). Sure, the main event probably would have been better with Reigns in the Kurt Angle slot, but if you think that match gets laid out the exact same way with Reigns in there, you're a bit delusional. I mean, Braun Strowman still probably gets stuffed in the back of a garbage truck, but the way to get there probably is different. I don't know. The point is, TLC looked like a good show going in, and it gave a good return on investment.

Granted, it wasn't a perfect show. For one, Asuka should have absolutely trucked Emma. Obviously, Asuka was never a speed-queen in NXT, and she had to sell a lot in various matches, including one against Emma at her first Takeover. NXT is a different beast than the main roster, and wrestlers need to make huge splashes if they're being presented as huge deals. Asuka got vignettes and hushed-tone praise in advance of her graduation to RAW. She should've iced Emma within a few minutes just to put the exclamation point on that build. It would've cemented Asuka as a made woman, and then she could have had the match last night on RAW in two weeks. First impressions mean so much, and giving a first impression of vulnerability for someone coming into a new place with a long undefeated streak felt tone-deaf at the very best. It does seem silly to critique a match for being too good or for a worker like Emma to be given too much offense. Being able to divorce myself from the feeling that WWE was in the process of taking another layup from NXT and botching it on the main roster, I enjoyed the action a lot. Asuka showed a lot of dimensions she didn't really have the chance to in NXT. But if it were me booking it, she'd have planted a roundhouse kick right in Emma's mug to start and got a quick pin to make a statement.

Additionally, I didn't like Enzo Amore regaining the Cruiserweight Championship either. WWE has a plan to build the cruisers around a central villain, but if you go back to what made the Cruiserweight Classic special, it wasn't people chasing a singular bully. No one worked heel in it outside of a few flashes of Brian Kendrick using veteran guile in a few instances. So they get to RAW and after some weak, identity-finding months of belt trading among Kendrick, TJ Perkins, and Rich Swann, the division goes right into the reign of Neville and then Amore lording over things, the complete opposite of what worked on the smaller scale. It was one thing to have Neville as the top dog cruiserweight bully, because that motherfucker could work a match. Still, he had to sacrifice a good portion of his athleticism, including an incredibly over finish, so he didn't get cheered for his actual wrestling.

Meanwhile, Cedric Alexander and Rich Swann have spent the whole goddamn existence of 205 Live floundering in limbo or in bad stories over Alicia Fox with Noam Dar. They finally get a decent story with a pay-per-view endgame, and what happens? The crowd goes bonkers over them. The kernel is still there, and fans have long memories. It's not too late to cut bait on Amore as Champion and go with a round robin of dudes who can go supernova and the able workers who can base for them, maybe a technical background with a hot antagonist gimmick who has history of basing for lucha libre, no matter how watered down or Americanized it was, because hey, outside of Gran Metalik, it's not like WWE is importing a ton of real luchadores, right? It's a shame the company doesn't have someone like that *cough* DREW GULAK *cough*.

Of course, perhaps the worst thing to happen was the post-match Finn Bálor/AJ Styles "too sweet"-ing that seemed to be allowed from management as a fuck you to the people WWE is actively trying to sue out of doing it. Honestly, it's natural the two workers would do it, especially since WWE has actively allowed them to embrace their past in an attempt to profit off someone else's intellectual property. I don't blame either Bálor or Styles in the least. However, WWE clearly has piggybacked off someone else's work, and now is trying to keep those same people from doing the same through legal channels. It's gross.

However, the positives of this show far outweighed the negatives. Like I wrote above, every match was at least good, even Amore/Kalisto. The first three matches flirted with greatness, actually, especially the cruiserweight tag match. But it also bears noticing how far Alexa Bliss has come as a worker, and how automatic the RAW women's division has become for quality on a show-to-show basis. WWE can throw two, three matches out there, and it's going to be able to buoy a show. If Nia Jax decides to come back and not leave, and depending on how many Mae Young Classic/NXT graduates come up in the near future, stacking half a show with women's matches could be more than conceivable.

I think the main event is going to obviously dominate conversation just because of how much stuff happened in it. Every once in awhile, WWE puts on a match that is just chock-full with Attitude Era overbooking and clutter, but unlike the late '90s, when the best workers were either relegated to the deep lower card or were broken-ass neck Steve Austin, it rarely ever came off with the desired effect. Few people watched WWE in the late '90s for match quality. Right now, however, the matches are a huge draw because of how the business has evolved and the roster WWE has put together. The least regarded workers in the match were the two limited-use old-timers whose deficiencies were hidden within the stipulations and by the sheer number of other wrestlers in the match. They served their purposes, and in turn added to the rollicking fun.

Sometimes, all a match has to be is fun to work. Matches like the cruiser tag or Styles/Bálor were good and satisfying because they hit certain beats and followed a more "wrestling" formula. A two-man advantage handicap garbage gimmick match, however, has to follow different beats, and it has a different set of rules. You work with the players and the pieces you have. You can overbook this kind of match and have it play out in a manner that leaves you happy you watched the thing. The Monday Night Wars era overused that kind of booking and left fans jaded and convinced that it was bad. In this case, how else would anyone have booked that match to go forward, other than not having booked it at all? It had the big car crash action. Sure, the stretcher spot has been overused by WWE, but in this case, when everyone thought Angle was a risk to legitimately die in the ring, it actually worked for once.

Then, you have the garbage truck. It was probably the most polarizing thing to be introduced into that match, but it worked. It provided a unique and memorable platform for Rollins and Ambrose to jump off. Honestly, WWE should be trying to find new and unique things for Rollins to jump off at least for the next five-to-ten years. IT's what makes him work. The truck also provided yet another deus ex machina for Strowman and great motivation for him to crush more people in the aftermath. I don't wanna call it a "face turn" because I don't think WWE needs to make Strowman a pure babyface for him to be either popular or narratively effective. He just needs to keep mauling people and keep getting put in situations that would kill anyone else five times over just to come back like a spirit of vengeance. In fact, like @TimWelcomed (kinda) noted on Twitter after the show last night, Strowman just needs to keep being fed to vehicular death traps and coming back stronger than ever like Shredder at the end of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990).

But the most clever bit, and one that felt just a bit wasted with Angle there in place of Reigns, was how it mirrored the first Shield match so much. One of the monster threats (Ryback then, Strowman yesterday) was neutralized on the left side of the stage facing the ring from the entrance. The other monster threat, Kane in both instances, got put through the barricade in front of the ring announcer/timekeeper area. And as Daniel Bryan took the pin in the first match, so too did Miz, the person who currently uses Bryan's YES! kicks, in this match. Sure, a lot of dots remained unconnected between the two matches, but the attempt at symmetry was noticeable.

Even though WWE has the tendency to phone stuff in, it has almost always done right by The Shield. Last night's main event wasn't the main event most fans wanted. It wasn't the match I wanted for sure. However, I'm not sure anyone could have looked at the card headlined by that match, even after the addition of Kane or the loss of Reigns for Angle, and said that on paper, it looked awful. I'm all for dunking on Vince McMahon and his execution on running and promoting wrestling. Sometimes, however, one has to ignore the goblin in the room and look at the combinations of wrestlers and how that talent might go out and ball. This match had all the right combinations before the changes were made, and even though the main event was diminished, adding AJ Styles to any card makes it better. Sometimes, WWE can make you get excited; when its talent delivers on the promise, everyone wins.