Preview: WWE TLC (12/16/18)

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Photo: WWE

This Sunday marks the 10th annual TLC Pay Per View event by the WWE, which began the annual gimmick event in 2009 in San Antonio, Texas, with the main event featuring D-Generation X (Triple H & Shawn Michaels) defeating WWE Tag Team Champions Jeri-Show (Chris Jericho & Big Show) for the titles in a TLC match. The concept of the match was much older of course – the first ever TLC match occurred nine years earlier at SummerSlam 2000, in the classic between WWE Tag Team Champions Edge & Christian defending their belts against The Hardy Boyz (Matt & Jeff Hardy) and The Dudley Boyz (Bubba Ray & D-Von Dudley). There were eight more TLC matches throughout the 2000s before the WWE started the annual event in its honor.

Mixed Match Challenge Finals: Jinder Mahal & Alicia Fox vs. Carmella & R-Truth

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Somewhat of surprising finals for the Mixed Match Challenge competition – I don’t think many would have expected either of these teams to be in this spot, let alone both of them. But R-Truth and Carmella‘s pairing on SmackDown has been surprisingly entertaining for a bulk of the WWE Universe, and Alicia Fox has paid her dues in the women’s division for the past decade to earn a PPV spot, even if it’s most likely due for the Kick Off Show.

Chairs Match: Rey Mysterio vs. Randy Orton 

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“The Legend Killer” appears to be back, as Randy Orton has gone from Jeff Hardy to Rey Mysterio since his return a few months ago. He’s continually shamed Mysterio by going for his mask of late, and this Sunday Mysterio will get the chance to get his revenge on the Viper. Prior to this feud, the two hadn’t really interacted in a feud since 2009, and their last meaningful rivalry was over the World Heavyweight Championship in 2006. So in many ways, it’s the freshest feud Orton has had in some time.

WWE Cruiserweight Championship: Buddy Murphy (c) vs. Cedric Alexander

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Cedric Alexander finally gets his rematch for the title he lost to Buddy Murphy at WWE Super Show-Down in Australia this past October. That title change was the match of the show for the Australian event. Since then, Murphy has defended the belt on 205 Live against NXT UK’s Mark Andrews and Mustafa Ali, while Alexander has defeated Tony Nese and Lio Rush to get back into contention. There’s no reason to think this match won’t end up stealing the show once again.

Ladder Match: Elias vs. Bobby Lashley 

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This past summer, a heel Elias was in a battle with a returning hero in Bobby Lashley. Fast forward four months, and now fan favorite Elias is taking on an arrogant villain named Lashley in a Ladder Match. And the guitar that fans used to hope ended up around Elias’ neck will be suspended above a Ladder and free for Elias to use on Lashley, but this time with the crowd’s approval. Two characters that many in the WWE Universe hope for more from compete in a match that will try hard to finally win the crowd over to the WWE’s thought patterns on their characters.

Finn Balor vs. Drew McIntyre

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Considering the history of each of these two men’s starts in the UK scene in the 2000s, as Fergal Devitt and Drew Galloway, it’s rather surprising that their first ever singles match didn’t happen until this past July on Monday Night Raw. Both men mare their debuts in the UK scene in 2002, but never crossed paths – by the time Devitt arrived in Scotland’s Insane Championship Wrestling (ICW) in 2012, McIntyre was already in the WWE. By the time Devitt arrived in NXT as Balor, McIntyre was back on the indies. Balor’s inclusion in the battles against Dolph Ziggler & Drew McIntyre has finally lead to a UK indie dream match. Finn Balor has missed the past week of events due to illness, so hopefully, he’s fit for Sunday. Otherwise, they may call an audible and insert Dolph Ziggler into the match.

Tables Match: Natalya vs. Ruby Riott

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One of the more controversial feuds in the WWE right now (due to the use of Natalya‘s recently deceased father Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart), regardless of the story that set this matchup, it really is the card’s sleeper. Ruby Riott is well prepared for a contest as physical as this – during her tenure on the indies as Heidi Lovelace, she backed down from no challenge, big or small. She’s fought some of the toughest women in promotions like SHIMMER, Shine, AIW, IWA Mid South, Stardom and more, against the likes of Shayna Baszler, Viper, Jessicka Havok, Momo Watanabe, Mercedes Martinez, and LuFisto. In 2014, she had a feud with a young Jordynne Grace in IWA Mid South. Make no mistake, Ruby Riott can take and bring a fight. And she’s facing one of the most underrated grapplers on the WWE’s main roster in Natalya Neidhart, the only woman ever trained in the Hart Dungeon. Disregard the story that brought them to this dance if you have to, but don’t sleep on this match. It’s got two great storytellers in the ring who will make sure this match counts.

SmackDown Tag Team Championship Triple Threat: The Bar (Cesaro & Sheamus) (c) vs. The Usos (Jimmy & Jey Uso) vs. The New Day (Big E, Kofi Kingston & Xavier Woods)

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If anything shows the lack of depth (or unwillingness to elevate anyone else) in the SmackDown Tag Team division, it’s the fact that the WWE can’t seem to move past either of these three teams to contend for the belts. Since March of 2017, every title reign has been from one of these three teams (barring a four-month run by the Bludgeon Brothers, Luke Harper & Erick Rowan). While there’s no denying the three are top-level talents, their matches are getting somewhat routine and the division could use some new teams so these three could face some new blood to reignite their true creativity.

SmackDown Women’s Championship, Triple Threat TLC Match: Becky Lynch (c) vs. Charlotte Flair vs. Asuka

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For many people, this is the true main event of the card. No one has been a bigger star in the WWE this year than Becky Lynch. Although the means of her “turn” was a bit awkward, it still resulted in the arguably the most needed character change in recent history, resulting in exactly the personality the performer needed to break the glass ceiling. It was like going from The Ringmaster to “Stone Cold” Steve Austin in terms of arc and it’s resulted in “The Man” conquering fans of both genders with equal excitement. The big money is clearly on having Becky face Ronda Rousey at WrestleMania 35 next Spring, so don’t be too surprised if Lynch loses her championship to either Charlotte or Asuka. Asuka’s been elevated smoothly back to the top of the SmackDown women’s division after a few months off from relevance, so she would benefit most from the win. Meanwhile, Becky could drop the belt, enter the Royal Rumble next month and then declare to face Ronda Rousey once she wins it. All three could win this one, making it the exciting one to watch for the outcome and one that all three will be looking to create a classic.

Raw Women’s Championship: Ronda Rousey (c) vs. Nia Jax

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Ronda Rousey goes into her title defense on Sunday with a drop in momentum – she went from being in the hottest feud in women’s wrestling not materializing to facing someone that has turned off a lot of the WWE Universe due to her KO punch on Lynch that causing the feud to end. While Rousey holds a victory over Nia Jax in their only other meeting – a DQ victory though at Money In The Bank, that resulted in Alexa Bliss regaining the title – Jax has found herself fast-tracked to Raw’s top heel with her recent heel turn alliance with her cousin, Tamina Snuka. But if Lynch vs Rousey is going to happen at WrestleMania 35, Rousey will still need to be champ, so expect Rowdy Ronda to retain her belt, with potentially another DQ victory should Tamina get involved.

TLC Match: Braun Strowman vs. Baron Corbin

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Braun Strowman will make his eagerly awaited return to WWE broadcasts following his elbow surgery, in a TLC match against Acting General Manager Baron Corbin. Corbin was just a participant in a TLC match this past Monday against Seth Rollins, in what was a pleasant surprise and decent affair in an otherwise sub-par episode. While the matchup may have held more intrigue if Corbin was more his “Lone Wolf” than Constable gimmick, Corbin has proven to be more confident in the ring these days than ever. The time off for Strowman was probably a good soft reboot – he’d gone heel to face to heel to face often this year, and failing out the collective WWE universe zeitgeist for a few weeks was probably a good thing. It’ll make his impending carnage all the more fun.

Intercontinental Championship: Seth Rollins (c) vs. Dean Ambrose

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This should be a match with more excitement around it, but for whatever reason, it doesn’t have that big match feel. Perhaps its the rather unorthodox run of late from Dean Ambrose‘s character, where he went from lunatic sociopath to germaphobe or the consistent use of Roman Reign’s real-life luekemia, but it’s been more of a miss than hit story so far. For what it’s worth, Seth Rollins is still the absolute workhorse of Monday Night Raw, and continues to make the most out of every appearance he’s given – he helped make his TLC match with Baron Corbin a decent match. It’ll likely be an outstanding match when it’s done, it’s just a shame the story has connected as well as it could have.

WWE Championship: Daniel Bryan (c) vs. AJ Styles

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Should this match main event on Sunday (and there’s no reason why it shouldn’t), it will mark only the second time this year that the WWE Championship has been defended in the main event of a WWE Pay Per View in 2018 (the only other PPV to do so was Fastlane in March, that had WWE Champion AJ Styles defending in a Six-Pack Challenge against John Cena, Kevin Owens, Sami Zayn, Dolph Ziggler and Baron Corbin). While the two have faced each other three times on SmackDown Live this year (including the title change in November), this will be their first time facing each other on a WWE Pay Per View. In fact, this will be their first ever singles match against each other in a Pay Per View setting at all. Their previous meetings in the indies were for special events only, with the last singles special event being Ring of Honor Dissension in 2006, which ironically was ROH World Champion Bryan Danielson (Daniel Bryan) defending his title against challenger AJ Styles. Bryan won that night in a 35+ minute classic. If these two are given the time on Sunday, there’s no reason why they couldn’t do it again.

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