TLC, Raw, & NXT Takeover: London

I said I wasn’t going to write about WWE until something interesting happened. I figured I’d be writing about New Japan and speculating Lucha Underground and describing every variation of an armbar until at least the Royal Rumble, page views be damned. But WWE surprised me this week, and put together a solid week of television. I’m not going to rehash everything that happened, but each show was definitely worth watching, though they raise questions going forward.

First, the TLC PPV. My expectations were low. Figured the card had a chance to be decent, but that the main event was destined to be a disaster. Neither guy was over with the crowd, and a TLC match did not play into either of their strengths. I expected a lot of interference from Roman Reign’s and Sheamus’ respective groups. I had high hopes for the tag team ladder match though, and it delivered, with some of the craziest spots seen in a WWE ring in a long time. The highlight of course was Kalisto hitting his finisher, the Salida del Sol, off the top of a ladder, though another ladder. The “finisher off the ladder” trope can be overdone, but it’s been a long time since we’ve seen one that impressive.

The Alberto Del Rio vs. Jack Swagger chairs match was surprisingly good. A “chairs” match may be the dumbest stipulation in WWE, and I hope one day someone gets disqualified for using a weapon besides a chair. Otherwise, what’s the point? A ladder match has to involve a ladder. A table match has to involve a table. A “chairs match” doesn’t need anything, you can win it normally. It only exists to make “Tables, Ladders, and Chairs” a thing. At least they got rid of the “stairs match.” Ridiculous stipulation aside, Del Rio and Swagger had a really good match with plenty of intensity for a meaningless feud. While most the other matches were merely “okay,”, the chairs match was second only to the ladder match in quality.

Then there’s the main event. Some people have shitted on the crowd for entertaining themselves, but what do we expect? This match had no heat going into it. No one cared about what happened. The match was a microcosm of Roman Reigns’ push. He would do something impressive, like give a cool looking Superman Punch over the ladder, then something immediately stupid would happen to take the crowd out of it. To Reigns and Sheamus’ credit, by the end, the crowd had at least stopped chanting for other wrestlers. The real victory though was the post match angle, where Reigns ripped into HHH, dominating The Game and putting him through an announcing table to stand tall. For once, the crowd was behind Reigns, but it was hard for me to get to excited. WWE has been trying to get Reigns over for a year, and take two steps back for every step forward.

Raw was a really good show, one of the best of the years. It had some really good wrestling, and had an actual story run through the episode. Things didn’t feel quite as random as they usually do. Kevin Owens looked dominant, which I’m a big fan of. Owens should be a main event heel, and he needs to run through guys like Ziggler in order to get there. The best thing on the show though was probably the Wyatt’s vs. ECW hardcore match. While their Tables match at TLC was merely mediocre, this match let them go to their hearts content without being blocked by a stipulation. We got some flashes of Bully Ray when he was in there with Luke Harper, and I wouldn’t object to seeing more of Bubba in a solo environment. We got some nice spots, notably a Dreamer Driver off the stage. The match was way better then it had any right to be, and was a good sendoff for the ECW guys.

I was afraid WWE was going to lose all goodwill towards Roman that they had built up the night before by having him talk, and sure enough, he just had to compare someone’s testicles to food. Stop it Roman, it’s weird and not funny. But Roman stood tall at the end, holding the title for the foreseeable future, and the crowd was supporting him. It’s worrisome that the WWE only knows one story (rebel against authority figure) and is so reliant on Vince freakin’ McMahon to get someone over, but at least it was entertaining to watch.

Eventually, someone must surely notice that Roman’s double entendres and cartoon catchphrases get little reaction, but people cheer for him when he does impressive physical actions. I’ve said before I don’t oppose Roman being champion, but he needs to be Roman Reigns, not The Rock or anyone else. Play to his strengths, which is mostly looking impressive. A Roman Reigns title reign doesn’t have to be a disaster, but if Roman comes out in a beer truck next week or pours cement in Vince’s car, there will be no hope going forward. Despite my best instinct, I have hope WWE won’t fuck this up. Again.

Then on Wednesday was NXT Takeover: London. It’s special start time meant I got to leave work early and watch it live, and it was a great show. Unsurprisingly, NXT remains the best wrestling show on WWE television, though TLC gave it a run for it’s money this week. The shows were so different I can’t really compare them, but overall I preferred the compactness of NXT. Asuka and Finn Balor were the stars of the evening. Both understand how important presentation is, and they deliver in spades. There wasn’t a bad match on the show, which made it very watchable. Samoa Joe and Balor in particular went all out, and it was Joe’s best match in quite a while. I’m not sure where they go from here, but the next Takeover event isn’t until Wrestlemania, so they have plenty of time to figure things out.

All in all, a good week for WWE, though worrying in spots. I am hopeful, as always, that they will be smart and keep their momentum going.

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