I’ve actually enjoyed much of Raw and (to slightly lesser extent) Smackdown heading towards the end of this frankly horrible year. Yet, going in to TLC the conversation was dominated by a record low Raw TV rating last week, a network begging for adult-aimed content and maybe an eventual shift in the WWE TV product. Yet, whatever has gone wrong with certain aspects of WWE, I was looking forward to TLC 2020 more than any PPV in some time. All the announced matches, from the two title bout Tables, Ladders and Chairs matches to the just announced Firefly Inferno match stipulation to the much anticipated “The Fiend” Bray Wyatt and Randy Orton showdown, seemed to have very low chances of being disappointing. So could this be a high end to a most chaotic and uncertain year in wrestling?
Well, here’s how the night went down…
1. (Kick-Off show) Eight Man Tag Team Match
Big E, Daniel Bryan, Otis & Chad Gable vs. Shinsuke Nakamura, Cesaro, King Corbin & Sami Zayn
Admirably a few storylines were at play in this eight man tag jumble, predominantly Big E and Sami Zayn’s budding Intercontinental Championship rivalry, as well as the unexpected team up of Chad Gable (god how good it is to stop calling him bloody ‘Shorty G’) & Otis and their clashes with the ever underrated Cesaro & Shinsuke Nakamura. Oh yeah, there’s that whole King Corbin stable thing too (meh). Anyway, this was a solid eight man tag, that hit its stride midway, as the action got faster and the ending with Big E making a statement by pinning the calculating Zayn for the victory was feel good and well chosen, and got us ready for the night ahead, as well as their upcoming IC title match on Smackdown.
2. WWE Championship TLC Match
Drew McIntyre (c) vs. AJ Styles w/ Omos
Starting us off was the anarchic WWE Championship TLC match and my word it was just that. AJ Styles (accompanied by his mountainous buddy Omos) was on reliably sensational form against the always brilliant Drew McIntyre and this first time ever affair unsurprisingly delivered the goods. Both men made interesting use of the weapons, integrating a gruelling wrestling contest into the stipulation, using ladder and chair assisted bone crushing submission moves to great effect, with McIntyre selling a destroyed knee beautifully. Then…it happened. With both men down, out popped Mr. Money in the Bank The Miz who cashed in his briefcase and hey presto this became a triple threat TLC title match! And he’d have gotten away with it two if it hadn’t been for, well, physics! Miz almost got the belt, were it not for Omos hilariously scooping him off the ladder side like a misbehaving child and dropping him like a sack of coal through a table! Then John Morrison tried to whack the giant with a chair only for said chair to practically blow up in Morrison’s hands upon impact on the angered big man’s back. It was funny as heck and Omos is an absolute imposing force. Anyway, all three men eventually were left all on their own and tussled for the gold in an all out climb finale but the resilient warrior McIntyre triumphantly beat the odds and retained meaning that Miz is the first ever guy to win a cash in and to lose one. I know many are miffed that the contract this year ultimately ended up amounting to nothing but lets be honest, there are so many WWE Championship avenues building at the moment that I don’t think there was time anymore for a transitional title reign to be thrown in, so wise choice says I.
3. WWE Smackdown Women’s Championship
Sasha Banks (c) vs. Carmella w/ Reginald Thomas
This new champagne showered character change for Carmella has been a godsend, it’s great – from the entrance to the promo work – and she has clearly worked so hard and improved so much in the ring, and in this title match with the great Sasha Banks, these two defied many vocal critics and delivered what I thought was a fantastic match. The action got fast and heated, with the glamorous villain pulling many heel tricks and using her poor old sommelier (he seems to take a right battering every night) Reginald Thomas wherever possible. Carmella came pretty close too but in the end, the lady who only this week delivering a tornado DDT to Boba Fett (on the amazing Mandalorian Season 2 finale) got the submission win, in a close fought match. I hope this feud continues!
4. WWE Raw Tag Team Championship
The Hurt Business (Shelton Benjamin and Cedric Alexander) w/ MVP vs. The New Day (Kofi Kingston and Xavier Woods) (c)
After a series of failures, this was surely the night for The Hurt Business to dethrone the champs. I was shocked they didn’t make this a ladder match actually but clearly things are continuing with these teams. The match was given decent time and all four athletic talents did their thing well, with the underlying story of Cedric Alexander getting awfully big for his boots being an intriguing story that can only build from here. Nice to see him getting a platform. The Hurt Business got the gold, so business was indeed good tonight in this evenly matched and enjoyable tag battle.
5. WWE Women’s Tag Team Championship Match
Asuke and Charlotte Flair vs. Shayna Baszler and Nia Jax (c)
This was the weakest match of the night, which says a lot as it was still a good tag team match and gave the women’s tag titles some real star power. It does seem a tad unsatisfying that, with Lana’s last minute removal (on the Raw prior) as Asuka’s partner, all these weeks of build have kind of been for nought, but Asuke did have a big mystery partner revealed here. Cards on the table I’d have loved for it to be her old Kabuki Warriors pal Kairi Sane but it was in fact a returning Charlotte Flair and as well all know, when the Queen is here a title win is not far behind. Seriously though, she hasn’t lost a step in her months away from the ring and as credible contenders go, Charlotte and Raw women’s champ Asuke were the most credible ladies to wrestle those belts off of the powerhouse duo of Nia Jax and Shayna Baszler. It does make me wonder if this means we are heading for Asuke/Charlotte rematch at WrestleMania and if so, there is a good story there, as we all know.
6. WWE Universal Championship TLC Match
Roman Reigns (c) w/ Paul Heyman vs. Kevin Owens
I was quite shocked this didn’t main event but more on that later. In the weeks leading up to TLC, while looking indestructible in the process Kevin Owens fair got his arse kicked week by week, so we all did not expect him to topple Roman Reigns. I mean, it was obvious right? Well, credit where it is due, they had you seriously second guessing this many times throughout. This TLC Universal title match started fast with Owens on the instant attack and it never let up from there. This was a thrill ride of a match, which saw the now most incredibly detestable heel in years (he genuinely makes you angry watching) Reigns using an interfering Jey Uso constantly to gain the advantage. But this was a breakout moment in the career of Owens because he was in true beast mode here, going through furniture left and right but getting back up and practically having the match won more times than you can count. It was a searing encounter, and Reigns nailed that brilliant knack of making your opponent look as good in defeat as in victory (a hard thing to do). Both guys sold this story of an arrogant and desperate champ being caught off guard by an unkillable warrior and it made for incredible viewing, with Reigns ultimately resorting to a dirty low blow (and Jey Uso) to get up that ladder and snatch the gold. This was fantastic stuff it really was, moreso than I expected even.
7. Firefly Inferno Match
The Fiend vs. Randy Orton
This intriguing stipulation was announced last minute but in the aftermath now, it is hard to imagine this match without it. I was thrilled to see this main event, as it was the match I was most looking forward to going in and it did not disappoint, leaving us all with numerous visuals we’ll be talking about for a while. The promo package beforehand, integrated with festive spirit, sinister storytelling and the huge history between Bray and Orton, was one of the most beautifully edited and delivered video packages WWE has ever done (and that is saying something). Remarkably this bout actually did take place in the Thunderdome and wasn’t the predicted 100% cinematic affair, although it did uses cinematic techniques at points. This was just a crazy, outrageous and death defying brawl, as the two fought in full attires (Orton was dressed in full gear too adding some uncertainty as to who may win). The rules were practically the same as a standard Inferno match (light your opponent on fire to win) but the layout was altered, with The Fiend’s activation of the flames a minute or two in being the first of many cool visuals to come. The two used fire-lit weapons, gasoline and street fighting to try and virtually kill each other but in the end it was Orton who managed to ignite The Fiend in the rampside flames. Years ago, we always envisioned inferno matches being like this but the safety measures and ability to pull it off wasn’t there but in 2020, these two proved you can do it and the ending of this match was not only a living encapsulation of a horror film, it was perfect to the characters and story. Reminding of Orton’s same attempted murder tactics with The Undertaker in their epic and equally grand 2005 rivalry.
As The Fiend caught fire, he was a literal walking inferno (see that pic – what a mad image!!) and still on the attack, leading to a desperate RKO on the ignited monster from Orton, this motion of events reminded of 1981’s Halloween II or Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood, as the monstrous Fiend was the alight and still fighting slasher movie monster. But Orton’s flooring of his opponent with those three devastating letters was not enough, he would douse the fallen monster in gas and light him on fire entirely to finish him once and for all. Now, obviously, they cut to a dummy for the full burning body as we went off air but the symbolism and final image of a burning Fiend lying in the ring was a powerful and hardcore moment, that might just be ushering in a new era in WWE, as it seems PG’s days might be numbered. Now, some have said this could be WWE ending The Fiend character, I say balderdash! We horror fans all know you can’t kill the bogeyman and why on earth would WWE get rid of the greatest character in years?! If they do, I may consider walking away from this company because crikey, it would just be stupid, even by some of creative’s most illogical standards. This whole match was a raging fiery spectacle, a horror movie, a daredevil affair (seriously, Bray is a creative genius but also one hell of a brave man to do this flame-strewn closing stunt, that in unsafe hands could have gone really wrong) and left us with so many questions to ask as to what comes next. I say, The Fiend will return to annihilate Orton, we are only left to ask when that day will come. After all, they always come back its when, not if. And I can’t wait.
Overall, WWE TLC was arguably the greatest PPV of the year in WWE, and most certainly the greatest since Royal Rumble, Elimination Chamber and WrestleMania at the beginning of 2020. There was not one bad match on the card. The two TLC title matches were awesome, the undercard did not yield a single dud and there were so many breakout performances (Carmella, Cedric Alexander, Kevin Owens) all night, and the Firefly Inferno match pushed that stipulation’s envelope further than ever before, as The Fiend became Jason Voorhees, Michael Myers and Freddy Krueger to Orton’s sadistic and desperate survivor. The Fiend is – sorry about the pun – red hot and Orton has never been better, so whenever these two forces meet again, lord only knows what’s next. What a hell of a night, with something offered for most viewing tastes (story driven matches, spectacle matches, pure wrestling matches, character matches), now it’s onto the Royal Rumble and hopefully a WrestleMania season that can continue TLC’s pure fire impact.